The class introduced students from all backgrounds to the emerging areas of biodesign, biotechnology, and synthetic biology, enabling the students to unleash their creativity with biological tools and living palates. Each week, there was a central theme that the class focused on, accompanied by an inspirational guest lecture, recitation, and a lab session on that topic. The hands-on lab session is probably the most exciting part of the class, because we got to play with a variety of cutting-edge techniques and tools, which we can use for our final project. Throughout the semester, we did many fascinating experiments that I would never have thought could be packed together in one class, from gene cloning to bio-printing, protein design to microfluidic fabrication, microbiome sequencing to CRISPR, and more.
The class is also deeply committed to the democratization of biotechnology; therefore, the materials of the class and experimental protocols are open source and available online. The “How to Grow (Almost) Anything” course was inspired by the philosophy of the MIT class by Professor Neil Gershenfeld called “How to Make (Almost) Anything.” Through the many years that Professor Gershenfeld empowered students to express their creativity through fabrication tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and more, he discovered that personal fabrication tools are not for making products that people can buy in the supermarket, but rather to create things that make each individual unique! The goal for the “How to Grow Almost Anything” class is very similar in the sense that the class does not aim to convert students to become biologists, but rather to inspire students to use biotechnology as tools that could be combined with other disciplines to create something unique that traditional biologists would never think of.