Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero: What is it?

Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero: What is it?

Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero: What is it?

Welcome to How-to use Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero, the learning journey and guidebook to programming bacteria made specifically for beginners!

This book and learning journey is created for:

  • at-home-learning by parents & teens as well as general enthusiasts
  • teachers & students in general biology, biotech electives, AP bio
  • prospective graduate students
  • STEM workshops in makerspaces, museums, community labs (DIYbio)

Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero: The Beginner's Guide to Programming bacteria at home, school and in the makerspace is the first book of its kind. It is the anchor point to becoming a Genetic Engineering Hero, a genetic engineering journey to achieve a skill level reached by biology majors in university. Using a desktop mini-lab, experiment kits, and the guidebook, teens and adults  setup a biotechnology lab at home or school to safely learn genetic engineering.

The beginner's guidebook includes many techniques that make learning complex subjects accessible without being overwhelming: 

Hands-on learning:

Traditionally, students complete extensive memorization and learn extensive theory prior to engaging in practical skills, which is typically the most engaging part where learning comes alive. It is often hard to properly understand something you have never experienced. Hands-on learning allows students to directly take on board and understand what is happening, or how to do something. This is a particularly successful way to teach kinaesthetic learners, who learn best by example.”

Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero brings science alive by enabling you to begin with one or more fun and engaging hands-on exercises. These hands-on exercises teach practical science skills, and general concepts you can see happen in front of your eyes. Following the exercises, each chapter includes a “Fundamentals” section which dives deeper into the subject of the hands-on exercise and includes tangible examples experienced during the hands-on section.

This approach ensures you have a physical experience to anchor your new knowledge to and offers real-world context. This makes the subject more personable, engaging, fun, and memorable!

But wait, do you prefer learning the theory before the practice? That’s a perfectly good way to learn too! Simply invert the chapter order - start with the fundamentals, end with the practice!

“Just-in-time” learning:

Regular textbooks typically use the “just-in-case” learning approach where the reader memorizes all the information about a subject “just-in-case” they need it in the future. Just-in-case learning can be boring, and it is definitely harder to do. “Just-in-time” learning is an approach where you learn concepts as you need them, within the context of something important “now”. This sort of immediacy is not lost on the learner, who becomes much more motivated to learn something RIGHT NOW then something they made need far into a future they cannot touch.”

The hands-on exercises in Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero creates the “now” that the just-in-time content anchors too.

Tiered learning:

Complex subjects, such as genetic engineering, have a lot of depth to them. Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero includes many levels of depth you can choose to learn from:

  • Hands-on learning content: This is the content that guides you through the fun and engaging hands-on exercise. You learn a lot about genetic engineering by simply completing this content.
  • Going Deeper sections: These are distinct, small sections that dig deeper into some of the phenomena at work during the hands-on exercise. They are easily recognizable in their green boxes. These sections are optional and you can read them, skip them or come back later. This all depends on your level of knowledge and goals.  Some of the subjects of the Going Deeper sections are even discussed later-on in the book as part of the Fundamentals sections. You can always flip back to those sections you skipped. For example, there is a Going Deeper in Chapter 1 that is referred to in Chapter 5 and 6 since the hands-on exercises of those Chapters are thematically-linked to Chapter 1’s Going Deeper.  Since your knowledge and comfort with genetic engineering will have grown significantly by Chapter 5, you will be able to go back to the Going Deeper of Chapter 1 and understand it with no difficulty if you found it too much the first time you encountered it. This is normal, and why we wrote the book this way.
  • Pro-Tip sections: These are distinct sections in the book that include more real-world tips that professional genetic engineers consider as they go about their work. These sections are optional and can be skipped as you go through the book. You can return to them when you’re ready. You will find these in red boxes.
  • Fundamentals: The second part of each chapter includes ‘first principles’ relating back to the chapter’s hands-on exercise(s). ‘First principles’ are basic and foundational facts. In this case, you will be learning the ‘first principles’ of genetic engineering - some of which are from the life sciences and some from chemistry. While this may seem complex and difficult to learn, we have written them in an easy-to-grasp language with many many examples and analogies, links to videos, and embedded figures. Going Deeper and Pro-Tip boxes are also found throughout the Fundamentals.  Perfect for beginners and future scientists. The Fundamentals can be optional if your goal is to ‘make with biology’ by completing the hands-on exercises. However, having an understanding of the Fundamentals will help you succeed at the later hands-on exercises and if your goal is to become a genetic engineer.  

Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero is the very first step you should consider in your learning of genetic engineering (sometimes called Synthetic Biology) and programming biology.




What each chapter covers:

Chapter 1 guides you through a fun exercise of seeing how much deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is in the fruit you eat. No special equipment or ‘ingredients’ are necessary. You can get all of the hands-on ingredients at a local pharmacy or grocery store - you probably even have them at home.
After the exercise, you learn about:
  • Evolution in relation to the structure of DNA,
  • the structure of DNA, and how it relates to genetic engineering, genomes, and more.
This Chapter also has fun analogies to help learn a little chemistry. By completing Chapter 1 you will already start seeing the world around you differently! You may even change your perspective on life itself!
Chapter 2 is the “housekeeping” chapter. It includes important information about setting up your genetic engineering workspace and important safety practices you must follow. This chapter includes:
  • step by step suggestions for setting up your work table,
  • the equipment and ingredients you’ll need,
  • and biosafety.
Upon finishing this chapter you will be ready to complete the rest of the book!
Chapters 3 to 7 include a series of topics relating to programming bacteria with DNA. You ease into the subject by:
Chapter 3
  • learning to grow bacteria
  • discovering what they are made of
 Chapter 4
  • completing your first genetic engineering experience
  • beginning to understand how cells “microfacture” things (microfacturing is like manufacturing except on the microscope scale!)
 Chapter 5
  • learning how to extract microfactured proteins from cells
  • learning the second step to microfacturing where cells make proteins
 Chapter 6
  • learning how cells cause chemical reaction using enzymes you've engineered cells to microfacture
  • discovering that enzymes are the key to life existing.
  • learning the third step to microfacturing
 Chapter 7
  • learning how to begin controlling cells with environmental cues such as chemicals, light, and heat
  • learning about more complex genetic circuitry (beyond what was learned in Chapters 4 and 5)

Have a look at the learning journey map here!

Upon completing the entire book you have a deep understanding of how biology functions and have the foundational hands-on skills that genetic engineers use in their everyday lives.

Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero is written for those with no genetic engineering experience or prior knowledge - as you get further and further into this book the uncertainty around genetic engineering will melt away!


Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero can be used by everyone! 

For at-home learners: Just like a “learn javascript at home” book,  Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero takes the at-home-learner on a journey to understanding genetic engineering and what makes cells tick. If you’re a parent and want a world changing topic to learn with your teen, Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero is a great resource and guide. If your teen is planning to go to college, Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero can be a tool to help gauge your teen’s interest in life science!

For teachers: This book can become your textbook to turn biology into a STEM class whether the general science classroom, a biotechnology elective, or AP biology. The concepts and hands-on exercises can be connected to many learning objectives found in frameworks such as the Next Generation Science Standards. Amino Labs is partnered with Canadian and US institutions to develop Teacher Lesson Guides for each chapter. These will further help use the book in classrooms. 

If you are interested in developing or adapting your own class lesson guides to include Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero as an engaging resource, we would be excited to hear from you. Contact us!  (mail to: subject)

For DIYbio, science museums, after-school clubs and makerspaces: Are you part of a STEM and innovation space that provides education to the public and members of your community?  Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero can be the foundation for starting or expanding your own STEM biology education and/or Genetic Engineering program. Zero to Genetic Engineering Hero is written for the general public.

For iGEM teams: Whether you advise an iGEM team, have colleagues who advises one, or have a child/student that aspires to be on an iGEM team, this book establishes the foundation necessary to compete in iGEM. Once your student or child completes this book, they will be ready to be on an iGEM team and begin wetlab experimentation.


Happy Reading and Doing!


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