Free online courses will teach anyone DNA sequencing

If you want to change the yeast in beer or splice genes in an organism, this is the intro class for you.

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It's never been easier to learn how to code using online resources, and that's not limited to computer programming. You know what else is code? DNA, which scientists have been modifying in bacteria and embryos with increasing success over the years. Researchers from the Centre Recherches Interdisciplinaires in Paris, France have launched Synthetic Biology One, a website offering free courses to teach anyone how to change genetic code.

Yes, these online classes train you to genetically modify organisms, as it were. But they aim to give you the tools for less controversial DNA alteration, like create specific types of bread, cheese, beer, or yogurt -- basically taking millennia-old food-making methods and throwing in some mad scientist tinkering. As the site states, graduates should exit the course with the ability to "read, write and create custom DNA sequences."

That means getting your feet wet with a little biology, math and computer science at the college undergraduate level, with instruction assuming you've spent a year studying these fields at a university -- though anyone eager enough to try shouldn't be dissuaded. Alongside learning how to use tools "used in synbio labs around the world," the course introduces the kinds of ethics questions that will come to define how researchers and industries use synthetic biology, which is still a nascent field. To that end, the class is deliberately aimed at teachers, students, journalists and policymakers -- basically anyone curious enough to dip their toes in a cool new field of applied science.

So far, Synthetic Biology One has four "courses," which function as instructional units built around a specific practical project. All told, the final program should contain enough work and instruction to constitute about a semester's-worth of education. You won't get any sort of certificate or college credit, at least for now, nor is the coursework peer-reviewed and industry-approved. But like many MOOCs, free access to intro-level cutting-edge science is a fantastic resource to novices who aren't ready to invest in college classes.

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