BioBuilder for Teachers

training teachers

The curricular materials in Synthetic Biology offered here present exciting possibilities for teaching, a chance to engage your students as problem solvers and to work with them at the edge of what’s known. The material in this “for teachers” space should lower the barrier for trying some or all of the activities. You’ll find tips and practical advice for getting started, as well as assessment tools and reagents lists. We’re eager to hear what you need, how it goes, and any of your ideas for improving and extending the units. Please email us through BioBuilder to share your feedback and experiences.

Why teach this?
Here are some reasons from our BioBuilder teachers:
  • Learning current and relevant science
  • High interest
  • Non-predictable outcomes
  • Emphasizes creative portion of science
  • Meets NGSS and Common Core
  • Adaptable on the inquiry spectrum
  • Practical application of synthetic biology
  • Introduction to basic engineering principles
  • Emphasis on engineering “design/build/test” paradigms
  • Collecting and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data
  • Determining the need for various types of data
  • Emphasizing team work and collaboration
  • Learning and implementing basic lab skills
Where does this content fit in?
  • The BioBuilder curriculum is not intended to stuff “more” content into some already overstuffed classes. It can be used to teach ideas and content that are traditionally taught in high school and college classes.
  • The curriculum is not exclusively intended for one specific life science course. BioBuilder has been used in General or Honors Biology (with high school freshman), in AP Biology and in Biotechnology classes (with high school juniors and seniors), and in college engineering or microbiology lab classes. Middle school students also have had wonderful success with the BioBuilder Jr labs.
  • The BioBuilder content is also well adapted to our after-school club setting. Biodesign teams all over the world work at their own schools to develop personally meaningful biotechnologies through the BioBuilderClub.
Alignment to Standards

Download BioBuilder’s alignment to the following teaching standards:

The BioBuilder Curriculum

book cover
BioBuilder Textbook available through O’Reilly and Amazon

Each of the components of this curriculum focuses on different, but related, aspects of both biology and synthetic biology. We provide educational animations for students and teachers to explore the underpinnings of synthetic biology through hands-on labs and in class activities. All the material is modular and can be taught completely, in any order, or as individual exercises to supplement an existing program. The BioBuilder curriculum is intentionally flexible and the activities may be used when and where appropriate based upon student content and skill readiness.

  • Eau that Smell is a laboratory exercise that compares two alternative genetic designs. Both programs should make the cells smell like ripe bananas as the cells grow, and the lab requires that the students generate a bacterial population growth curve to compare the output of the competing banana-smell designs.
  • The iTune device lab examines the role of parts, such as promoters and ribosome binding sites, in predicting the output of a genetic device. The students measure b-galactosidase enzymatic activity as the device’s output, thereby looking through the lens of molecular genetics to predict and then evaluate a device’s behavior.
  • Picture This consists of three activities that focus on circuit design. Students examine a two component sensing system that has been engineered to produce bacterial photographs. Picture This activities include a downloadable program to model the genetic system and change experimental parameters, an exercise to model the same system using electronic parts on a bread board, and an opportunity to send a stencil that will be turned into a bacterial photograph.
  • What a Colorful World examines the role of the cellular chassis in system performance. Students transform different strains of E. coli with DNA that turns the cells several bright colors. Students then observe how different the color intensity can be from strain to strain, despite being encoded by the same DNA sequence.
  • Golden Bread explores the science, engineering and bioethics of a yeast that’s genetically modified to make a vitamin-enriched food. Lab activities include PCR, yeast transformation, codon shuffling and statistically analysis of data.
  • The Bioethics Essay assignment asks students to consider the potential of synthetic biology as well as the risks.
  • In the Biology-by-Design assignment, students identify a problem that could be effectively addressed with a biotechnology, and then they specify a living system they believe could meet the challenge.