Freshman Clusters

Cluster M71A,B,CW
Biotechnology And Society

Lecture Schedule: Monday and Wednesday | 12:30 P.m. - 1:45 p.m.
Faculty: Michelle Rensel | Institute for Society & Genetics, Coordinator
Anne Le Goff | Institute for Society & Genetics
Rachel Lee | English, Gender Studies, Institute for Society & Genetics, and Center for the Study of Women
Rachel Vaughn | Gender Studies and Center for the Study of Women)

Librarian: Simon Lee | Powell Library

Surely in the early days of genetic engineering, few would have predicted that we would be creating three-person embryos, engineering crops to produce pharmaceuticals, and rapidly sequencing individuals' genomes and exploring epigenomes. As the pace of advances in molecular biology continues to accelerate, we must ask and answer hard questions, including, who should be the recipients of the benefits of this new science, and on what basis? How do we determine what modifications of human and other life forms are safe and appropriate? And, most broadly, how do advances in biotechnology affect our understanding of ourselves, our relationships with each other, and our role in the natural universe?

The complexity of these issues demands that we approach this new science in its social context. "Biotechnology and Society" provides such an approach through the analysis and exploration of the biological, ethical, and socio-political dimensions of biotechnology. Students gain an understanding of the molecular biology underpinning the advances in biotechnology through lecture and discussion. At the same time, they build a vocabulary and set of intellectual tools with which to explore and debate the future of gene science, including the role of patient groups, artists, legal decisions as well as scientists to shape that future. Through case studies, roundtable discussions, noted guest speakers, and films, students are equipped to continue to learn about this complex and rapidly evolving field even after they complete the course.

Course Format

This course features the following distinctive elements:
A case study approach to the methods, applications, and implications of biotechnology, including:

  • Breast cancer
  • Genetically Modified Foods
  • "Do It Yourself" Biology
  • Reproductive Technologies and Stem Cells
  • Sequencing and Epigenetics
  • Identity and Illness
Guest speakers, including:
  • Cutting-edge research scientists
  • Genetic counselors

Spring seminars – Previous seminar topics have included:

  • From Molecular Music to Transgenic Art: Genetics and Culture
  • Science, Nature, and Religion: Classical Questions and Biotechnology
  • Biotechnology and Society in Science Fiction: Cloning, Sex, Immortality and the Evolution of Humanity
  • Eating for the Environment
  • Biotechnology in the Media
  • A Short History of Bio-politics
  • Constructions of Illness and Care

Writing II and Foundation Area General Education Credit

Upon completion of the yearlong cluster, students will fulfill the Writing II requirement and satisfy 4 GE course requirements:
  • 1 course in Foundations of Scientific Inquiry (Life Science without lab)
  • 1 course in Arts and Humanities (Philosophical and Linguistic Analysis)
  • 2 courses in Foundations of Society and Culture (1 in Historical Analysis and 1 in Social Analysis).

Human Biology and Society Major

Completion of the first quarter of this cluster satisfies a pre-major requirement for the Human Biology and Society major. For more information on the major and how to apply, please click here.