BIOC 221: Molecular Biology

From gene to protein. How genetic information is stored and determines biological function. Principles and applications of genetic engineering. Impact of molecular biology on health, agriculture and New Zealand society.

In this paper students will learn how information is stored in DNA, how it is retrieved and how it may be manipulated.  First we consider the architecture of the genome in bacteria, fungi, plants and animals.  Next, considering the genome as dynamic, we study how DNA is replicated and transcribed.  Focusing on the structure and regulation of individual genes, we follow the flow of information into protein synthesis.  Throughout the course, emphasis is placed on genetic engineering and how we can identify and manipulate genes using new technologies developed for the genome projects.

The project-based, modular laboratory course reinforces the lecture material and provides hands on experience in molecular biology research.

Molecular Biology: an introductory vision (1 lecture)
What is molecular biology?  How did the discipline arise and how has it evolved?  Why is it making such an impact on our lives today?  The key developments: DNA as the genetic material, the structure of DNA, the genetic code, amplifying, manipulating and characterising DNA by genetic engineering and DNA sequencing.  Human Genome – implications for the “meaning of life”.

The molecular anatomy of genes and genomes (8 lectures)

How is DNA replicated? Structure of genes and genomes in bacteria and eukaryotes. Packaging DNA inside cells. Analysing the transcriptome – all the genes that are expressed in the organism – using RT-PCR and microarrays. Analysing the genome – sequencing, analysing differences between individuals. How this information can be used to better understand biology, medical diagnosis, or for crop/livestock improvement. 

Transcription and control of gene expression I (4 lectures) 
Prokaryotic gene expression, RNA polymerase, sigma factors, lac operon, positive and negative control of transcription, DNA binding proteins, attenuation.
Transcription and control of gene expression II (4 lectures)
Eukaryotic gene expression, nuclear and organelle RNA polymerases, basal factors, initiation, termination, capping and polyadenylation of RNA.  Transcriptionally active chromatin, promoters, cis elements, trans factors, enhancers and silencers.  Expression from constitutive genes, developmentally and environmentally regulated genes.  Analysing gene expression.

Bioinformatics (2 lectures)
What is Bioinformatics, why is it important?
Databases and tools for Molecular Biologists.

RNA Biology (8 lectures)
Understanding the wide ranging role of RNA in the cell.  Four Nobel prize eras for RNA so far: RNA within information flow, RNA enzymes, RNA as a  regulator of gene expression. Origin of functional RNAs.  Structures of the transcripts of genes.  Processing larger transcripts into functional RNAs.  The ribosome as a molecular device of RNA and cooperating proteins.  How antibiotics can kill pathogenic bacteria and not harm us.  Initiating, elongating and terminating the synthesis of a polypeptide chain.  The conventional Genetic code and non conventional genetic recoding. How to publish research findings and the structure of a research paper.

A Guest Lecture

Molecular Biology and Society – 2011 (3 lectures)  
The silent impact of molecular biology in New Zealand to the turn of the millennium. Molecular biology becomes public with the GE debate and the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. Balancing New Zealand society's views with the  knowledge economy and a  national biotechnology strategy.  Genome sequences and our perceptions on what it means to be human-insights from the human and chimp genomes.  Implications of knowing from genome sequence about our own individual disease susceptibilities and behavioral traits. Does the human and other genome sequences inform  us about the “meaning of life”?

Paper prescription on the University website