Student Projects

On the Origin of Synthetic Species

Authors: Matthew Leader, Shani Leader

Grade: 11th

Subjects: Art, Biology

Student work for
Student work for
Students holding presentation materials
Student work for

“On the Origin of Synthetic Species” was an 11 week inquiry-based journey in biology and art that served to rewrite Darwin’s seminal work “On the Origin of Species” .  Students incorporated protocols and techniques from biotechnology and genomics labs from project partners to apply new understandings of evolution as comparisons to chapters and experiments from the original work. Using reflections of computation biology techniques in the 21st century and their own work, students wrote their own version of the book as a re-examination of Charles Darwin’s observations. Some of those current applications from the project include DNA editing with use of CRISPR, competition in the 2016 BioEnergizeMe project, the creation of synthetic life and metagenomic studies at JCVI, analysis of Digital Evolution with AvidaED and misconceptions and misapplications of the theory as with Eugenics. Project partners in research and pedagogy facilitators include the Suzuki Lab at the J.Craig Venter Institute, the Beacon Center at Michigan State University and the biology department at the University of San Diego.

How does Darwin’s work and writing connect to research in the biotechnology community today? How can current genomics research further inform the Theory of Evolution?

Biofuel Inforgraphic REVISED

On the Origin of Synthetic Species

A journey to understand and examine acceptance of the Theory of Evolution in the 21st century.



The Theory of Evolution is…


Main Product:

“On the Origin of Species” book rewrite for beginning biotechnology students and educators. The book is a re-examination of Charles Darwin’s observations and experiments in light of genomics and computational biology techniques in the 21st century. We will look at applications of DNA Editing with use of CRISPR, the creation of synthetic life, Digital Evolution with AvidaED perspectives through history.



11 instructional weeks-October to December

Exhibition is a demonstration of research and share-out of book highlights.


Book Chapters as Weeks

Project Essential questions (Posed to scientists)

-What was your perspective of “The Origin of Species” growing up, throughout research and today?

-Why use evolution as a basis to teach topics in genetics, genomics?


Wk 1

Intro: Student perspectives, interviews, and understandings. Editors Group

Intro Reading and Versions of “On the Origin of Species”

Created the first week with Dialogical Interviews, Google Forms, Journalling


Wk 2/3

Experimentation Topic 1- Developments in Genetic and Genomic tools to better understand history, change and the future.(AMGEN BIOTECH GROUP)

CH 1)Variation under Domestication

CH 2)Variation under Nature

-Working through the Amgen-Wallace Biotechnology labs 1-5 exploring Bioengineering of E. Coli.

-Student conversations with Miramar Biotechnology Center Scientists




Wk 4/5/6

Experimental Topic 2- Digital Evolution (AvidaED GROUP)

CH 3)Struggle for Existence

CH 4) Natural Selection

CH 5) Laws of Variation

-Digital Life Paralleling E.Coli and the research of Dr. Richard Lenski

Simulating and exploring evolution in an accelerated world using AvidaED

Conversations with Mike Wiser, PhD

-With Sexual Selection (A Human Perspective)

Eugenics Movement History

Genomic activities and interpretation of studies and relevance to treating disease.

Conversations with Danjuma Quarless and Tom Gross, PhD


Wk 7/8

Experimental Topic 3- CRISPR, Synthetic biology, the Minimal Cell and Applications


CH 6) Difficulties with the Theory

CH 7) Hybridism

-Bioenergy Competition

-Eugenics Movement-Gene Editing Connections

-Exploring current research and developments in genomics by building phylogenies

and looking at the minimal cell.

-JCVI Genomics Activities/Labs and Research Interpretation

Conversations with Yo Suzuki, PhD


Wk 9/10

Topic 4- Recapitulation, Historical Perspectives and Conclusion


(Reflections from Biology Students)

-What are changes in your perspectives and understanding of the theory of evolution?

-How has current research in biotechnology and tools to view evolution shaped how you view evolution?

Epilogue: Teacher Perspectives of Topics, Responses and Relevance in Teaching/NGSS


Wk 11

Exhibition Prep: Editors Organize

Demonstrations of Avida, LSSI, and Programming

Book Excerpt Readings



Within Semester 1-Work with 9th Grade Students

Semester 2-Teaching of other 11th Grade Students -ART FOR BOOK CHAPTERS