Course 2: Your First GMO

Goals for this Course

  • To introduce plasmids as a tool for carrying DNA into cells.
  • To demonstrate lab protocols for moving DNA around bacteria.


Key Terms Covered

  • Vector
  • Origin of Replication
  • Antibiotic Resistance Marker
  • Multiple Cloning Site
  • Modularity
  • Abstraction
  • Optical Density
  • Absorbance
  • OD600
  • Exponential Phase
  • Log Phase
  • Stationary Phase
  • Moles
  • Molarity
  • Molar
  • Molecular Weight
  • Copy Number
  • Aliquots
  • Vortex
  • Hippies
  • Neckbeards



Hi everybody! Welcome back to Synthetic Biology One. In this project we’ll be making our first genetically modified organisms, specifically bacteria.

You know what a GMO is. You take a piece of DNA out of one organism, collect it in your test tube or whatever, then put it inside of another organism where it replicates and is passed down to descendants – like DNA does.

It sounds super cool and it is. It also might sound very high tech, futuristic and exotic. But it is really not. By the end of this project, you will see that DNA is a pretty normal thing that you can move from one cell to another using basic tools and normal stuff.

So this is the project where we introduce DNA and start to make friends. We start to think about DNA as a chemical substance, some thing that has chemical properties like concentration, solubility and so on.

We’ll also meet the concept of a DNA sequence: ATCGCAT and you know the rest. We need to able to read DNA to understand what it does. This is not something that we can do just by eye, so we’ll introduce DNA sequence editing software that we use to read, write, copy and paste with DNA.

Along we way, we’ll continue to build our friendship with the themes from the first project. We’re still using math, building models, thinking like engineers.

By the time we’re done with this project, you will see one complete process of genetic manipulation from beginning to end. We’ll perform a DNA extraction to collect some DNA from a population of cells. We’ll make what are called competent cells, cells that are specially treated so they will take up foreign DNA from their environment. Then we’ll do what’s called a transformation to introduce that DNA into it’s new host.

We can grow those cells, extract that DNA, and start the process all over again. It’s the circle of synthetic life.

So until next time – hakuna matata.


Course Curriculum