BF0600 - Plant Biotechnology


Plant Biotechnology

Plant Biotechnology is one of the most fascinating, and fast moving fields of biological science in current times. In addition, it provides some of the most hotly debated issues world wide: hardly a week passes in which GM-crops, do not make their way into our newspapers or on the television news.

But what are these crops, and what is the technology behind them? In this module, we will explore the often complicated technology that enables genes from different organisms to be expressed in plants. Moreover, we will discuss the potential of genetically modified (GM) plants to provide solutions for current problems. In doing this, we will focus on agricultural crops.

Plant biotechnology is, as the word suggests, a technology - nothing more and nothing less. However, the problems addressed with GM-technology are usually of an ecological and/or socio-economical nature. If we want to understand the impact of GM-technology and participate in the debate around it, we need to have background knowledge and insight in the problems for which GM-technology may (or may not) provide a solution.

This module is not meant to develop students into either "pro-GM" or " against-GM" .Plant biotechnology and GM plants in particular, are complex - both concerning their background, and their potential place in our world. It is up to us, as biologists, to at least convey that message of complexity.

In this module we will make use of lectures, practicals and tutorials. In most of the lectures, there will be sessions in which students will be asked to work independently or in small groups on a problem for some time.

The assessment of this module is by coursework (50%) and exam ( 50%))


Slater, A., Scott, N., Fowler, M. 2nd edition (2008) Plant Biotechnology: The genetic manipulation of Plants. Oxford University Press.

Hughes, M. (1996) Plant Molecular Genetics. Prentice Hall.

Watson, J.D., Witkowski, J., Gilman, M., and Zoller, M., (1998) Recombinant DNA (2nd Edition) Scientific American Books


During this module, the main focus will be on the engineering and in depth analysis of several aspects of genetically modified plants, and especially GM crop plants. The molecular and biochemical aspects of the actual engineering of GM plants will be at the heart of this module. We will explore these techniques within the context of a range of applications in the field of GM crops drawn from current literature. Such 'technological' knowledge in itself however is not sufficient to be able to understand the of the potential benefits, as well as the potential dangers of GM plant technology. We will explore several aspects - ranging from technological details of engineering to yield, ecological consequences, safety and ethical issues - of a number of well known GM crops like Golden Rice, different herbicide-resistant crops and Bt-crops engineered to be insect resistant.


1. To provide students with a knowledge of modern biotechnological techniques applied to plant production and manipulation

2. To demonstrate the potential of biotechnology, in particular of Genetic Modification in crop plants, to provide solutions to current problems in crop production

3. To provide insight and background knowledge in the complex biotechnological, agricultural, environmental and social/economical issues concerning GM crops


The student should be able to:

1. describe the theoretical background of engineering GM plants, and explain all the major steps in this process

2. critically evaluate the molecular, genetic and biochemical background of the major current GM crop plants

3. critically evaluate the different aspects of not only engineering GM plants, but also analysing and interpreting the effect of GM crops in terms of yield, safety and environmental impact.


Genetics & Evolution (level5) or equivalent pre-module reading






During lectures the different Plant Biotechnology topics will be introduced to the students. Lectures will be as interactive as possible; student participation and "thinking along" is critical for the students in order to gain a deeper insight in the different issues in the field. Lectures will be linked to or based on scientific publications; students are expected to read key papers, and will be get papers and workbooks home. The lab-based sessions will reinforce and extend the knowledge and insight gathered in the lectures.

Directed and independent reading is necessary to prepare for exam and coursework. A special tutorial session is scheduled to give students extra support with, and feedback on their coursework.

The coursework is supported and monitored via a series of Progress Reports (please see section 19)


a Summative assessment and rationale for tasks

Exam ;50%.
The exam will take the form of and unseen 2 hour exam paper.

Coursework: 50%
Students will work together in small groups. They have to plan and design a novel Genetically Modified plant. In doing so, they have to use the knowledge and skills obtained during the various sessions and by the directed and independent reading in the module. Their projects have to be realistic from a plant biotechnological point of view. The final design must show details of how the transgenic cassette will be constructed, the method of delivery and selection, and the expected mode of expression and/or regulation in the plant. The groups will present their results orally to both their peers and lecturers in the final session.

Each group will be assessed their progress reports, and on the shown quality and quantity of the plant biotechnology project as presented in the final session. In addition, students will be asked to assess their peers with regards to input (both in quantity and quality) in the group process.

The summative cousework will consist of:

I. Progress Report 1. Short initial group report identifying the problem, setting out the strategy and division of the work within the group. 10% of coursework mark
II. Progress Report 2.. Report on progress in the group work. Presentation of results thus far; identification of gaps, planning of strategy for the remaining work. Division of work within the group. 15% of coursework mark
III. Final proposal – presentation and written final proposal. 75% of coursework mark.

b. Additional formative assessment – detail of process and rationale

Formative assessment
1. During the first three sessions of the module, we will work for a short time per session on a workbook based on a scientific paper. Students have to take the paper home, and answer the questions set in the workbook between lectures. The whole workbook will be discussed and explained in the sessions. The workbook is not assessed, but one of the exam questions will be based on it.

2. The first two practicals illustrate the molecular genetical background of a current example of plant biotechnology.
3. A similar approach will be taken in the third practical.

4. Most of the lectures include small sessions of self-study, where students have to explore an issue, and discuss among themselves. These sessions are ended by a classical discussion on the issue.

5. For most lectures, students have to prepare by reading a key scientific paper. This paper will be discussed in the lecture.

c. Indication of how students will get feedback and how this will support their learning

See point 2 in section b.

Students will get feedback on their two Progress Reports within one week of submitting . There will also be a tutorial organised where each group can discuss their progress in the project.



Course info

Credits 10

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 36 months

Location Singapore

City Singapore

Start November or April

Fee Information

Module Information

All information on this course page is accurate at the time of viewing.

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