The course consists of 120 credits of taught modules, with a research project and a dissertation contributing 60 credits. This course offers unique components related to specialist skills in three pathways; plant, microbial or animal biotechnology:
Plant Biotechnology pathway
This will provide theory and practical skills in plant genetic manipulation, plant breeding and genome research, which underpin all aspects of agriculture and horticulture worldwide. Specialist modules will provide an understanding of plant cell biology and the role of phytohormones in plant physiology.
Microbial Biotechnology pathway
This offers knowledge in using micro-organisms as production platforms for valuable compounds such as therapeutics, food additives and antibiotics. Specialist modules will provide you with an understanding of how antibody biotechnology can be applied to solve problems in an industrial and biomedical context. Theory is supported by practical based learning approaches and industry visits.
Animal Biotechnology pathway
This stream covers a range of topics from molecular techniques used to study gene function in eukaryotic cells to whole organisms, to more specialised aspects of bioinformatics, glycoengineering, molecular immunology, developmental epigenetics, molecular nutrition, reproductive biotechnologies and stem cell technologies. Our areas of expertise includes multidisciplinary projects, e.g. transgenic technologies, in vitro embryo production systems, biomarker discovery, nutritional influences on physiological functions, genetic and epigenetic basis of disease, genetic evaluation and healthy ageing.
Core modules – all pathways
Basic Laboratory Techniques
This module will provide practical experience in basic laboratory techniques including microbiological methods (media preparation, sterile technique, growth measurement etc), basic biochemical methods (buffer preparation and centrifugation) and molecular biological techniques (preparation and analysis of DNA). Practical work will be supported by lectures to provide an understanding of the basis of the techniques, the limitations of the methods and the appropriate methods of analysis.
Advanced Molecular Methods in Biotechnology
You will be introduced to modern molecular methods in biotechnology. Particular focus will be on transgenic methods and the use and application of bioinformatics in understanding the functional roles of genes, metabolites and proteins and how they can be analysed using a variety of new technologies, including deep sequencing, proteomics, mass spectrometry and transcriptomics. You will gain knowledge in applying, analysing and manipulating cells using current molecular methods and high-throughput technologies.
Microbes, Plants and Animal cells have been largely exploited for the controlled production of substances of interest in biotechnology. This module will give an overview of nascent and current trends in development and commercialisation of products relating to food, energy, and pharmaceuticals and the need to push towards fully sustainable bio-production of a larger spectrum of substances and their economic feasibility.
The module will also highlight ethical and environmental concerns on the use of genetically modified biological systems. Topics highlighted in this module include but not limited to ethics of GMO’s, commercial development of GM varieties, products of commercial significance, current issues, patenting and risk assessments.
Postgraduate Research Project
This is an individual project undertaken either on campus or as part of an industrial placement, depending on the degree programme. If you are completing your project in industry you will have an industrial supervisor who will determine the topic of the project. You will design the study; gain familiarity with previously published literature, together with the methods/techniques, ethical issues and, where appropriate, safety procedures relevant to the topic; and undertake data collection and appropriate quantitative analysis in preparation for the report and poster presentation.
This module aims to provide you with the skills, knowledge and practical experience required to respond to the challenges involved in managing, commercialising and marketing technological innovation and new business development.
Professional Skills for Biotechnologists
The content of the module focusses on career management skills and the knowledge required to gain success within the global job market. You will have the opportunities to evaluate your own skills, interests, experiences and goals to identify suitable opportunities. Training will be given in core competencies and techniques needed to be able to make applications that have positive impact on employers.
Plant Biotechnology pathway
Plant Cell Signalling
The module deals with the production and perception of plant signalling molecules. The ways in which these signals are integrated to ensure appropriate responses to environmental conditions or plant pathogen attack are discussed.
Plant Biotechnology MSc Pre-Project
This module provides you with the information and advice necessary to choose and carry out a project topic.
Early in the Autumn Semester, a list of project topics will be provided and discussed with you. This is followed up by individual tutorials with the module convenor to assist project choice. Project areas reflect the current research expertise within the Plant and Crop Sciences Division. All projects involve laboratory work and many involve the introduction and expression of agronomically important genes into crop species using tissue culture and molecular techniques. Individual tutorials with project supervisors provide the support allowing you to present a completed research plan which will form the basis of seminar presentations in the Spring Semester.
During the Autumn Semester you are required to select a recent plant biotechnology research paper for oral presentation. This allows you to develop the skills of summarising a primary research paper and developing a group discussion. The module is completed by an extensive literature review guided by the project supervisor.
Sex, Flowers and Biotechnology
The processes of floral development and reproduction are some of the most critical stages occurring during plant growth and development. They are fundamental for plant breeding, crop productivity and horticulture. The significance of plant reproduction is particularly pertinent to issues of food security and the future development of high yielding crops. In this module, you’ll focus on recent developments that have been made in the understanding of floral development, reproduction and seed production, including the current goals, methods and achievements in the genetic engineering of crop and horticultural plants. With an emphasis on reproductive biology or fruit production, you’ll learn how such processes can be manipulated for commercial exploitation and to facilitate crop improvement. Through a mix of lectures and seminars, you’ll gain a detailed knowledge on the developmental and molecular processes associated with flowering, seed production and fruit development.
Plant Biotechnology Industrial Visits
The module will cover the application of the latest and emergent biotechnology options for crop improvement. In relation to crop production, this will involve consideration of the genetic engineering of plant species to introduce new traits and new genetic mapping techniques as an aid to conventional plant breeding programmes. You will visit research institutes and Agri-Biotech companies to see the latest technologies in action. The visits will include days spent at Rothamsted Research, NIAB, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and several plant breeding companies. Instruction will be in the form of lectures and practical demonstrations including cereal transformation, molecular approaches to varietal analysis and image analysis for varietal profiling. A visit to Elsoms Seeds will enableyou to see seed quality testing, breeding strategies for vegetable crops, trialling and tissue culture for homozygous plant production.
Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants
The genetic improvement of crop plants is critical to address issues of food security for a growing world population and in the face of a changing climate. It is also the key to tackling environmental degradation and to meeting the increasing strict regulations on agricultural pollution which are coming into force in many Western countries. While these issues are not identical, they are linked and efficient plant breeding can be part of the solution to both. In this module, you’ll develop an understanding of crop genetic improvement through lectures, case and literature studies, research plan presentations, external expert seminars and practical exposure to crop breeding and molecular techniques. You’ll examine how modern and technological approaches can enhance crop breeding programmes and be able to assess the limitations of these approaches. The emphasis is on the application of biotechnology to conventional breeding, but you’ll also learn about genetic modification in the genetic improvement of crops. You’ll cover temperate and tropical, annual and perennial, and in-breeding and out-breeding crops.
Microbial Biotechnology pathway
This module will provide you with an understanding of how antibody biotechnology can be applied to solve problems in an industrial and biomedical context. It will cover the following: antibody structure and function, monoclonal antibodies, IgE and its receptors, the immunoglobulin system, the structure of immunoglobulins and their complexes with antigen, solution structure and properties of antibodies, and other related topics.
Microbial Biotechnology Industrial Visits
This module will cover visits to industries relevant to Microbial Biotechnology. The objective is to provide you with an understanding of commercial development of products and the processes involved in research and development. A wide range of industries from pharmaceutical to food will be covered as a part of this module. Activities include industrial visits, team based learning, lectures, seminars and tutorials.
Bioprocessing and Bioengineering
The module content includes advanced aspects of protein expression and the application of gene engineering to the biotechnology industry. This module covers underpinning aspects for bio-processing technologies including: an overview of microbes, including structure, function, kinetics and components; metabolism and biomolecules; microbial technology including challenges in scale up of different production processes.
Research Skills in Microbial Biotechnology
This is a core module taught to MSc in Microbial Biotechnology specialism and is designed to introduce you to basic techniques for use in research project. In addition, current trends in microbial biotechnology with microbes as examples will be examined from the current literature. As a research preparation module it is intended to supplement and prepare you for D24PRO by gaining information on relevant techniques both in the lab and also helpful in data interpretation.
Animal Biotechnology pathway
This module will cover current state of the art technologies used in the animal biotechnology industry. Content includes the genetic modification of animals and animal cells with the purpose of using them as bioreactors, models of human disease and for regenerative medicine. Content is delivered via a highly interactive program of activities, including lectures, seminars, practicals, workshops, and paper discussions, that require students’ active participation in the learning process.
Animal Biotechnology Industrial Visits
The module will cover visits to industries relevant to animal biotechnology. The objective is to provide you with an understanding of the processes involved in research and development. Activities include lectures and tutorials.
Molecular Nutrition (Biotechnology Option)
This module will introduce the concept of metabolic control at the gene expression level with particular reference to the role of nutrients in these processes. Through the provision and application of relevant biochemical and molecular biology information, you will gain an understanding of the regulatory effects of nutrients, either directly or indirectly, on gene expression and how this influences metabolism and growth in eukaryotic systems.
Research Techniques in Animal Biotechnology
This module considers dry lab demonstrations on techniques in animal and laboratory research, research processes in government and industry funded research, experimental design, data analysis and interpretation and other topics as deemed appropriate to the module content.
The above is a sample of the typical modules that we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. This course page may be updated over the duration of the course, as modules may change due to developments in the curriculum or in the research interests of staff.
Teaching methods and assessment
Most formal teaching is provided by lectures, tutorials and practical classes; learning is enhanced by the production of written reports and essays. Although lectures and practical classes still play an important role as the course progresses, your learning experience is enhanced by placing greater reliance on self-directed study, written dissertations and research project work.
Skills are assessed through a combination of essay style or short-answer written examinations or by the use of multiple-choice questionnaires. Assessment of acquisition and interpretation skills also uses coursework assignments based on exercises such as oral presentations, writing essays, reports and dissertations, presentation of posters, and research project work.