20.109(S11): RNA engineering report

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20.109(S11): Laboratory Fundamentals of Biological Engineering

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The culminating assignment for Module 1 will be a laboratory report in which you describe your RNA engineering investigation. It is essential that you relate not merely what you did but why you did it, and not only what your data presently shows but what it means for the future. The target audience for this report is a scientifically literate reader who is unfamiliar with your specific field. Thus, you can assume rapid comprehension – but not a priori knowledge – of technical information, and consequently should strive to present your work in a logical, step-by-step fashion.

Be sure to review the 20.109 statement on collaboration and integrity as you proceed.


Method of Submission

Please email your completed report to 20109 DOT submit AT gmail DOT com, with filename Firstinitial_Lastname_LabSection_Mod1.doc (for example, S_Hockfield_TR_Mod2.doc).

First Draft Submission: March 8th/9th

The first draft of your research article is due by 11 am on March 8th (Tuesday) or March 9th (Wednesday), according to which day you have lab.

WAC Conference

This semester you will be conferencing with a Writing across the Curriculum instructor ( Linda Sutliff and Neal Lerner) to get feedback on each of your research reports. These meetings will only be for 30 minutes, and the writing instructors will not have read your entire papers in advance, so being prepared is essential. Also, please note that the writing instructors will not be able to help you with the technical content of your papers, only on issues pertaining to writing (e.g., the requirements of the assignment, the rhetoric of research reports, logical flow of ideas, signposting of sections and subsections, concise and clear language, correct grammar and punctuation). To make the most of these conferences, you need to bring a particular focus and/or a set of questions that you'd like answered. Consider the sections of your report that have been a particular struggle and that you feel would benefit from extensive feedback. Or consult the guidelines for the report and bring a focus to your conference that addresses how well you've addressed those guidelines. Whatever your choice, the time spent will be most productive if you and the writing instructor focus on a piece of the report in depth, rather than the report as a whole in brief.

For your reference, conference times are listed on the user pages linked above.

Revised Article Submission: March 31st/April 1st

Your first draft, with feedback from Professor Niles, will be returned on March 17th (Thursday) or 18th (Friday). You will then have the opportunity to revise your report for up to a one and one-third letter grade improvement. In other words, a C can be revised up to an B+, a C+ to an A-, a B- to an A, etc. ) The final draft is due on March 31st (Thursday) or April 1st (Friday), according to which day you have lab. Please highlight any substantial revisions to your text, for example, by using a different coloured font.

Formatting Expectations

  • Your main document (excluding figures) should be/have
    • .doc (preferred) or .pdf
    • 12-pt font
    • with 1-inch margins
    • double-spaced (excepting the abstract)
  • Figures can be made in a separate drawing program (such as powerpoint), and should be submitted as .pdf

Guidelines on Length

Not counting figures, report length should be about 10-13 pages, and certainly not exceed 15 pages.

Though somewhat variable, typical section lengths might be:

  • Introduction: 2-3 pages
  • Methods: ~3 pages
  • Results: 3-4 pages
  • Discussion: 3-4 pages

Content Guidelines

Begin by reading the general guidelines for scientific writing, which describe the expectations for every section of the report, from Abstract to References. A few notes specific to Module 1 are below:


You are welcome to use your own creativity and judgement as to what a good introduction should look like; however, you may find the suggested structure (see also general guidelines) and content below useful. One approach you may choose is to emphasize method optimization to motivate your introduction, and to address the following guiding questions:

  • Paragraph 1
    • What is SELEX?
    • What are some benchmarks (in your own reasoning) that if attained, would maximize SELEX’s efficiency and accessibility.
    • What are some key parameters to optimize in achieving your desired efficiency?
  • Paragraph 2
    • Which parameter(s) have you chosen to investigate in your present study?
    • What is the rationale for choosing to explore this parameter in the context of improving selection efficiency? (That is, how is this parameter linked to selection efficiency?)
  • Paragraph 3
    • Why did you choose your specific conditions? [Consider this in the context of the parameter space covered as a lab section, in addition to what you are doing individually.]
    • Your expectations for how the outcome will vary as a function of your explored parameter space.
    • A brief summary of how you intend to assess whether your experiment worked (yours individually, and pooled across your lab section).
    • A brief overview of your results and conclusions.

Suggested Figures

Your report is expected to contain more or less the following figures. Of course you are welcome to make modifications and additions as you see fit. Recall that figures should generally be described in the Results section.

  • Schematics/diagrams
    • Schematic showing overall experimental plan and main steps involved
  • Figures
    • Gel from initial PCR
    • Gel with RT-PCR samples
    • Binding curves for your own set of data
  • Tables or just text
    • Binding data (peak height and peak shift) for entire lab section (or entire class if available in time)


You are not expected to do a thorough survey of the relevant primary literature for this first report. However, your introduction (and potentially discussion) should contain a total of at least three references.


The full descriptive rubric for lab reports can be found on the guidelines page.