‘Hands-on CRISPR’: Summer class teaches UC Berkeley students how to use gene-editing technology

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Over the summer, UC Berkeley offered a course that taught students how to use CRISPR-Cas9, a revolutionary gene-editing technology co-discovered by campus professor of molecular biology and chemistry Jennifer Doudna.

The Innovative Genomics Institute, or IGI, and the molecular and cell biology, or MCB, department, initially proposed the course in December 2016, and it was approved in summer 2017. The course was offered for the first time this past summer, and it will be offered again next summer.

According to Fei Lin, a course co-facilitator and instructional lab manager for the MCB department, about 30 students had the opportunity to listen to and learn from various experts in their respective fields.

“The students not only learned about CRISPR immunity, genome editing and DNA repair, but they also learned about CRISPR application, ethics and policy,” Lin said. “Students also acquired hands-on CRISPR lab skills.”

The course began with an afternoon lecture, followed by a longer lab section, according to Megan Hochstrasser, another course facilitator. Hochstrasser said students performed three main experiments throughout the semester, learning how to conduct DNA sequence analyses, edit the genome and purify DNA in a tube — a process known as biochemical reconstitution.

Ariana Hirsh, an IGI lab manager, said the course attracted students who wanted to learn about CRISPR for “the sake of learning” and students who are interested in research careers.

“Definitely take the course since it shows many aspects of CRISPR, not only how to do the procedure,” said one student in the course evaluation provided by Lin.

Lin said the course was “very successful” and that nearly all students rated the course a “5” on the course evaluations.

“Take it!” said another student when asked to give advice to future students in the course evaluation, provided by Hochstrasser. “I don’t want to tell, because that would spoil it.”

Lin said she hopes that CRISPR gene-editing technology will be incorporated into other MCB classes offered at UC Berkeley during the academic school year in the near future.

Hochstrasser said, at present, the course will remain offered in the summer. The eventual goal, however, is to collaborate with other schools so that they can offer a similar course, according to Hochstrasser.

Nicholas Olivares covers student life. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @nicholivares.