Genetic Engineering Courses and Classes Overview

A college education in genetic engineering typically takes students on a long and winding path, from genetics and cell biology to biochemistry and recombinant DNA. Those interested in genetic engineering often enroll in the courses profiled in this article.

Essential Information

Genetic engineering courses are typically available as part of graduate degree programs in fields like biology, biological engineering or medicinal chemistry and pharmacology. Undergraduate courses in genetic engineering are limited; undergraduate students wishing to study genetic engineering often enroll in biological science, genetic biology or chemistry degree programs, which may include relevant elective course options. Given the importance of hands-on practice in this field, some courses include both lecture-based and laboratory sessions.

Here are a few concepts that students in genetic engineering courses may encounter:

  • Cellular bioengineering
  • Eukaryotic genetics
  • Protein expression
  • Ecology and evolution
  • Epigenetics
  • Gene therapy

List of Common Courses

Genetics Course

This is one of two courses which introduces students to the fundamentals of genetic science through a basic study of the genetic material of plants, animals and bacteria. This is generally a 1-semester course, though it usually has a lab component. More advanced studies of genes appear in higher-level classes and may include subjects such as Mendelian genetics, speciation, and evolutionary genetics differentiated between microevolution and macroevolution.

Cell and Molecular Biology Course

This course focuses on the cell structure and function of eukaryotic organisms. It covers cellular biochemistry, metabolism and physiology, as well as cell regulation. Genetics is usually a prerequisite for cell and molecular biology; together, the two courses form the essential prerequisites for all the courses to follow in the overall study of genetic engineering. Like genetics, this is a 1-semester course that conducts a basic overview of the subject, while later, more advanced coursework might include concepts of cell cycles and reproduction, microscopy, and gene expression and control.

Molecular Genetics Course

Students who have completed coursework in genetics and cell biology usually make molecular genetics the next step in their education in genetic engineering. This course can take one or two semesters, depending on the program. Standard collegiate programs take a single semester to cover the principles of gene expression in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, biochemical techniques for manipulating genes, and potential applications of the subject matter toward modern biotechnology.

College programs in which genetic engineering is a specific major may break this course up into two semesters, with the first semester focusing on prokaryotes while the second semester concentrates on eukaryotes. In addition, students of this course learn about the implications of current genetic research on the social, cultural and political stage. Meanwhile, in the lab portion of the class, students clone genes from DNA, utilize tools of demonstration such as restriction mapping and gene-specific PCR, design primers, and put them to use in a self-constructed cDNA library.

Advanced Recombinant DNA Course

This course teaches students the principle theories of recombinant DNA, advanced techniques for working with recombinant DNA, and the applications of the science being taught. This course is generally broken up in genetic engineering programs, with one course teaching technique and theory while the other devotes the entirety of its time to lab work. Students in the lab gain hands-on experience working with DNA by practicing molecular cloning and directed mutagenesis, measuring gene expression, and detecting mutations.

General Biochemistry Course

Biochemistry is an entire field unto itself, but students pursuing an education in genetic engineering are almost always required to take at least a basic biochemistry course, and usually a more advanced one, as well. This more advanced course is typically along the lines of general biochemistry, in which students learn about the structure, functions and properties of proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and nucleic acids. Other potential topics in the curriculum include a comparative study of plant, animal and microbe biochemistry, an introduction to enzyme kinetics and a discussion of enzyme mechanisms. Though other classes in biochemistry may be taken, general biochemistry is a 1-semester course with an optional lab portion. A thorough background in organic chemistry is required.

Genetic Engineering Course

Building on all the courses discussed thus far, genetic engineering is a graduate-level course intended for students who have already achieved an undergraduate degree, usually in the field of biology. This class ties together various aspects of the student's previous courses of study, focusing on recombinant DNA technology, DNA manipulation, transgenic animals and the ethics of genetic engineering. Further concentration of the course will depend on the specific graduate program and the inclinations of the student, but the basic emphasis on assembling a gene for expression in a cell is almost always present. Some graduate programs incorporate a biotechnology element into this course.

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