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Synthetic Biology: Life’s Extraordinary New Worlds

Synthetic biology gives scientists the power to redesign nature and even create life. Learn how it works.
Synthetic Biology: Life’s Extraordinary New Worlds is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 15.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Lots of Hype “Might”, “maybe”, “possibly” “potentially”, or “promises” appear in almost every sentence. Frequently mentions “scientists” without pointing out scientists devise experiments which can disprove a theory. Also that the competition for funding produces extravagant claims. Lesson 14 does mention the hype about biofuels but is not carried forward to other lessons. Structured for smartphone users, with the camera steady on the lecturer. Short, superficial sound bites, and camera angles change frequently. The lecturer generally speaks clearly but has difficulty pronouncing “d” and “t” at the end of words. Many visuals such as the citric acid cycle require careful study to be useful. Others such as a picture of a fruit fly are useful if you don't know what a fruit fly looks like. Some are just cartoonish. Lots of attribution of sources, but often “Such-and-such company promises to...” without assessing costs, trade-offs, problems and timelines. Companies like Theranos, CytoDyne, and Puma are not mentioned. Avoids mentioning Genetically Modified Frankenfoods, a real-life, right-now example of millions being fed because of increased yields and disease resistance. Two star. Recommended because of some interesting and updated information, at the high school level, but when I consider what I actually learned, not much. The impressionable and those who value wokeness may be more impressed.
Date published: 2024-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This Was a Fascinating Course. This field is new to me but I found the lectures to be very well presented, logically explained and totally fascinating in the applications of this science. If I were young again, I could easily see myself lokking into this field as my life's work.
Date published: 2023-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Course posible I love it and so will you! Best person, scientist you got to love it its amazing! 5 stars!!!!
Date published: 2023-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent intro to SynBio The course was exhaustive and touched on many aspects of SynBio. The professor's explanations were thorough with excellent graphs and diagrams. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2023-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great fun! A wonderful intro to this very important topic and even a bio-nerd like me learned about a few new experiments I'd not heard of. Good presenter, too, clear and good use of visuals. Quibble: (no option for a 4.5) I'm not uneducated on the subject and I am not alone in being very, very concerned about the ethical issues (ways in which the powerful will grab this to create an unbreachable biological bar to descendants of everyone alive today who is NOT in the current 1%). This is a call to action every bit as crucial as GLobal Climate Change. This is grabbing the means of ending the random mixing of genes that drives diversity and allows an economic nobody like Ramanujan to arise, complete with brilliant mind. If we don't get serious about wresting control of this from the political adn economic elite, we won't have a human species. The people who won't even levy taxes on themselves to pay for decent, non-leaky, book and computer equipped K-12 education for the Lesser Folk will NOT make brain enhancements and excellent health available to them. Telling ourselves otherwise is ostriching. That wasn't said powerfully enough and it needs to be.
Date published: 2023-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I really didn’t know! Though I studied a lot of biology in the past, I was unaware of the potential of Synthetic Biology. This presenter carefully led me into the possibilities of this area of study. I would suggest this course for anyone interested in science and its potential!
Date published: 2023-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Synthetic Biology absolutely outstanding; i am a 15-20 yr member of the Great Courses and Wondrium. one of the best courses i have attended. Two comments: timely and in depth discussions that challenged me. Great range of topics discussed. Secondly graphics and charts were very self explanatory and helpful to understand the material.
Date published: 2022-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good for Introduction to Synbio Really cool series! I really like the explanation of the concepts and inspiring projects from universities, companies or the government. Would really motivate me to learn more about synbio
Date published: 2022-10-08
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Taught by Professor Milton Muldrow Jr., of Wilmington University, this course is an introduction to synthetic biology, covering its uses in medicine, agriculture, environmental science, and other areas, while also looking ahead to truly science fiction-like applications to molecular computers, space travel, and the creation of alien life-forms. Dr. Muldrow also addresses the potential misuse of synthetic biology, which could have devastating consequences for humanity and the biosphere.


Milton Muldrow Jr.

Synthetic biology is offering new approaches to solve some of our most pressing problems. Each day, new discoveries give us hope for a better future.


Wilmington University

Milton Muldrow Jr. is the Director of Natural Sciences at Wilmington University. He is also an associate director of the NASA Delaware Space Grant Consortium, where he has received numerous grant awards to advance his research as well as that of students. He earned his PhD in Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University. He worked at the National Science Foundation, and his research includes the public policy, conservation, and possible genetic engineering of coral reefs. He was named to Delaware Business Times’ top 40 under 40 list, has delivered TEDx talks, and owns a biotech and education business called Phantom Ecology.

By This Professor

Synthetic Biology: Life’s Extraordinary New Worlds
Synthetic Biology: Life’s Extraordinary New Worlds


SynBio Uses Life to Solve Problems

01: SynBio Uses Life to Solve Problems

Delve into the amazing world of synbio—synthetic biology—which uses the tools of molecular biology to manipulate life in a host of ways. Survey the wide range of current uses and the field’s almost limitless prospects for improving health, the economy, and the environment. Also consider synbio’s social, ethical, and political implications, with examples involving human embryonic engineering.

32 min
Reading DNA: SynBio’s First Tool

02: Reading DNA: SynBio’s First Tool

Synthetic biology starts with reading DNA—sequencing the molecule that codes genetic information. How is it done? Trace the rapidly evolving technology of DNA sequencing, which required 13 years and $3.5 billion to decode the entire human genome in the 1990s and early 2000s. Compare this effort with new methods capable of the same feat in a matter of hours at very little cost.

31 min
Writing DNA: Printing Synthetic Genes

03: Writing DNA: Printing Synthetic Genes

Now probe the technologies that can literally write DNA, assembling the pieces of life through “bottom-up” biology. Also called artificial DNA synthesis, this process allows genes to be tailor-made for tasks such as programming bacteria to produce insulin. First, inspect nature’s approach to building DNA. Then, examine traditional cloning methods along with the advanced techniques of synbio.

27 min
Editing DNA: CRISPR Supercharges SynBio

04: Editing DNA: CRISPR Supercharges SynBio

One of the most celebrated tools of synthetic biology goes by the name Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR. Explore the basic biology of CRISPR, which, together with an associated enzyme called Cas9, can target and alter specific sequences of DNA. Heralding a revolution in medicine and other fields, CRISPR borders on the miraculous, but it is also ethically fraught.

33 min
DNA Computers: DNA to Store and Process Data

05: DNA Computers: DNA to Store and Process Data

Computer users face frequent updates that make older models obsolete and eventually unusable. The same goes for data storage, which degrades after a few years. By contrast, computers using DNA as the storage and processing medium could, in theory, offer a stable, super-compact system that would last for millions of years! Delve into this exciting prospect, highlighting progress and problems.

28 min
Directed Evolution: Let Nature Drive Discovery

06: Directed Evolution: Let Nature Drive Discovery

Nature knows a lot more about evolution than humans do, so why not let nature do the work in a greatly sped-up search for new biological molecules? That is the mission of directed evolution. Learn how scientists set a goal, design an experiment, and then steer a living process through multiple iterations. The 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to three researchers for their work in this endeavor.

29 min
Metabolic Engineering: Getting More Product

07: Metabolic Engineering: Getting More Product

Find out how synthetic biology came to the rescue in meeting the high demand for an antimalarial drug called artemisinin. The product of an Asian plant, artemisinin became the goal of an elaborate project in metabolic engineering—reconfiguring the metabolic pathways in ordinary cells to produce a molecule at industrial scale. Examine other cases in this increasingly routine technology.

28 min
The Overlapping Revolutions of SynBio and AI

08: The Overlapping Revolutions of SynBio and AI

A branch of artificial intelligence (AI) called machine learning can enhance the power of synthetic biology in ways scientists never dreamed possible. For example, AI has solved the challenge of protein folding, predicting the complex 3D structure of proteins in minutes when it formerly took years. Explore how this feat is achieved, and survey other applications in the marriage of AI and synbio.

30 min
SynBio Foods, Wearables, and Implantables

09: SynBio Foods, Wearables, and Implantables

Synthetic biology can touch anything that can be grown, raised, or produced with microorganisms. This lecture covers the revolution in food and materials, highlighting new ways to fix nitrogen in the soil, culture meat nearly identical to the real thing, and weave fabrics stronger than steel but as soft as silk. The results are more environmentally friendly than products made the traditional way.

27 min
Regenerative Medicine for a Better Life

10: Regenerative Medicine for a Better Life

Turn to the uses of synthetic biology in regenerative medicine—the restoration of human function impaired by disease or congenital conditions. Start by reviewing the impressive advances in medicine in the 20th century. Then investigate the change brought by synbio, with radical new treatments to repair hearing and vision, address aging and longevity, and transplant organs and tissues.

28 min
SynBio Therapies against Cancer

11: SynBio Therapies against Cancer

Study the convergence of several techniques already presented in the course with the goal of defeating cancer—treatments that are having remarkable success. Focus on CAR-T therapy, which stands for Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy, designed to supercharge a patient’s immune system T cells to target tumors. Also, look at the use of synthetic viruses and bacteria to attack cancer cells.

31 min
Synthetic Virology and Faster Vaccines

12: Synthetic Virology and Faster Vaccines

Continue your study of viruses from the previous lecture by examining their broad role in human evolution, as well as disease. Focus on COVID-19 and HIV, and the challenges posed by each for synthetic biology. Cover the rapid response to COVID-19 by vaccine researchers, who scrambled to synthetize the virus using synbio techniques, paving the way for an assortment of vaccines.

30 min
SynBio Is Also a World of New Risks

13: SynBio Is Also a World of New Risks

Survey the risks of synbio, which in theory makes it possible to download the code for smallpox, Ebola, or other deadly viruses, and reengineer them to spark a pandemic. Malevolent experts could even create entirely new viruses, tailored to wipe out key life-forms. While still difficult to pull off, such dire plots will only get easier with time. Evaluate the safeguards that society can take.

32 min
SynBio for Eco-fuels and Pest Elimination

14: SynBio for Eco-fuels and Pest Elimination

Synbio can play a significant role in the fight to save Earth from continued degradation. See how metabolic engineering holds promise for lowering carbon dioxide output via the use of biofuels. Also, a genetic engineering mechanism called gene drives can eradicate invasive species and disease-carrying pests. Finally, synthetic biology can even rescue endangered ecosystems such as coral reefs.

31 min
De-extinction and Rescuing the Endangered

15: De-extinction and Rescuing the Endangered

Given our growing ability to build organisms using genetic blueprints, is true extinction a thing of the past? Probably not. On the other hand, synthetic biology is being used in research to create hybrid versions of the wooly mammoth, passenger pigeon, American chestnut, and other extinct species. Focusing on the passenger pigeon, review the steps needed to resurrect a vanished life-form.

30 min
SynBio for Survival in Outer Space?

16: SynBio for Survival in Outer Space?

The technology exists to send humans to Mars, however, keeping them alive during the multi-year roundtrip is another matter. Dig into the role that synthetic biology can play in this ultimate exploit. From the bone loss inherent in long-term weightlessness to the infertility of the Martian soil and lack of oxygen in the planet’s atmosphere, synbio can help turn a dream of science fiction into reality.

32 min
Xenobiology: Going beyond DNA

17: Xenobiology: Going beyond DNA

Continuing the idea of science fiction dreams becoming reality thanks to synbio, explore the prospect of a parallel biology that exists next to, but not compatible with, existing creatures on Earth. These would literally be alien life-forms, made from a different genetic architecture and presumably posing no danger to us. Evaluate current research on this mind-boggling idea and the reasons to pursue it.

28 min
Quantum Biology and the Future of SynBio

18: Quantum Biology and the Future of SynBio

Studies of biological processes such as the workings of enzymes, the sense of smell, the mystery of bird migration, and the astonishing efficiency of photosynthesis, give good reason to think that exotic quantum phenomena are involved. Quantum mechanics may, therefore, offer exciting new ways to manipulate life’s chemistry for our benefit. Could this be the future of synthetic biology? Stay tuned.

32 min