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CourseSource articles linked to the GSA Genetics Learning Framework cross-posted here with permission    


Using Synthetic Biology and pClone Red for Authentic Research on Promoter Function: Genetics (analyzing mutant promoters)




Todd T. Eckdahl and A. Malcolm Campbell



Students often memorize the definition of a transcriptional promoter but fail to fully understand the critical role promoters play in gene expression. This laboratory lesson allows students to conduct original research by characterizing functional regions within known prokaryotic promoters.  Students begin the lesson by learning the properties of transcriptional promoter DNA sequences.  They design mutations for a constitutive promoter and discuss their designs as a class to choose which mutations to clone and characterize.  This lesson provides an easy way for faculty with limited time and budgets to give their students access to real research in the context of traditional teaching labs that meet once a week for under three hours.  The pClone Red Genetics lesson uses synthetic biology methods and makes cloning so simple that we have 100% success rates with sophomores taking Genetics.  Students archive promoter sequences and their performances under standard conditions.  The database permits synthetic biology researchers around the world to find a promoter that suits their needs and compare relative levels of transcription.  The core methodology in this lesson is identical to the core methodology in the companion Introductory Biology Lesson by Campbell and Eckdahl. The methods are reproduced in both lessons for the benefit of readers.  The two CourseSource lessons provide the detailed information needed to reproduce the pedagogical research results published in CBE – Life Sciences Education by Campbell et al., 2014.


Genetics Concept(s) Addressed:

Molecular Biology of Gene Function: How is genetic information expressed so it affects an organism’s structure and function?

Genetics of Model Organisms: How do the results of molecular genetic studies in model organisms help us understand aspects of human genetics and genetic diseases?

Genetic Variation: How do different types of mutations affect genes and the corresponding mRNAs and proteins?

Methods and Tools in Genetics: What experimental methods are commonly used to analyze gene structure, gene expression, gene function, and genetic variants?


Core Competencies Addressed:

Students should be able to implement observational strategies to formulate a question.

Students should be able to generate testable hypotheses.

Students should be able to design an experiment using appropriate controls and appropriate sample sizes.

Students should be able to gather and evaluate experimental evidence, including qualitative and quantitative data.

Students should be able to generate and interpret graphs displaying experimental results.

Students should be able to communicate experimental results effectively, including writing research papers and giving presentations.



Introductory undergraduate; biology/genetics majors

Activity Type:

Laboratory exercise

Activity Length:


4 weeks in lab (2-3 hours each week), with options to extend the lesson




Eckdahl, T.T. and Campbell, A.M. 2015. Using Synthetic Biology and pClone Red for Authentic Research on Promoter Function: Genetics (analyzing mutant promoters). CourceSource. 00:xxx. doi:00.0000/journal.cs.000000


Article in CourseSource