PLNT*6800 Special Topics in Plant Science

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The following description is for the course offering in Winter 2023 and is subject to change. It is provided for information only. The course outline distributed to the class at the beginning of the semester describes the course content and delivery, and defines the methods and criteria to be used in establishing the final grades for the course.

A study of selected contemporary topics in plant science. Proposed course descriptions are considered by the Department of Plant Agriculture on an ad hoc basis, and the course is offered according to demand.

Students will study the role of nucleic acids in plant biotechnology and immunity. In this course we will examine the nucleic acid universe of macromolecules affecting plants. We will explore the different mechanisms of nucleic acid biogenesis and examine the roles of non-coding, coding and infectious nucleic acids associated with plant growth, development, and stress response. Emerging discoveries in elucidating the role of regulatory nucleic acids including those involved in gene silencing, epigenetics and examining the role of infectious agents including viruses and viroids causing plant disease will be explored. Students will gain laboratory experience in basic molecular biology techniques including PCR, gel electrophoresis, enzymatic reactions, cloning and sequencing.


Teaching Assistant:

Credit Weight:


Course Level:

  • Graduate

Academic Department (or campus):

Department of Plant Agriculture



Semester Offering:

  • Fall
  • Winter

Class Schedule and Location:

Please consult WebAdvisor.

This course will require students to participate in three hours per week of class time. This includes in-person classroom meetings and an in-person laboratory exercise. The class schedule will be determined based on the availability of the enrolled students.

Learning outcomes:

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate the ability to critically analyze and understand significant breakthroughs and advances in selected topics of plant science.
  2. Critically assess scientific journals, papers, review articles, and methodologies used in the selected topics of plant science.
  3. Analyze the potential limitations of methodologies used in plant science and assess the impact of these limitations.
  4. Prepare a formal written assignment, including the correct use of bibliographic citation.
  5. Deliver an informative presentation on a selected topic in plant science.
  6. Perform and understand basic molecular biology laboratory skills such as of PCR, gel electrophoresis, enzymatic reactions, cloning and DNA sequencing.

Lecture Content:

Meetings will be used to discuss topics  (virtual or in-person, date/time TBA).

Laboratory procedures will be discussed, demonstrated and repeated independently by students. Students will be required to perform approximately 10 hours of laboratory work throughout the semester.

Labs & Seminars:


Course Assignments and Tests:

(1) Literature review on a topic in plant biology involving nucleic acid (25% of final mark)
A rough draft (10% of final mark) and final draft (15%) of the literature review will be submitted to the instructor. The purpose of the rough draft is so that the instructor can provide comments and direction of the literature review.

Due Dates:

  • Rough draft - February 1, 2023 @ 4:00 pm, submit to the Rough Draft DropBox in CourseLink.
  • Final draft - April 6, 2023 @ 4:00 pm, submit to the Final Draft DropBox in CourseLink.

(2) Informative oral presentation on a topic in plant science involving nucleic acid (25% of final mark)
Due Date: Presentation dates/times TBD

The presentation will be 30-45 min. in length. A rubric will be provided to the student.

(3) Laboratory exercise (25% of final mark)
Each student will receive an "unknown" aliquot of total DNA. Students will perform various molecular biology techniques to identify the "unknown" DNA sample. Students will be required to submit a virtual laboratory notebook that will outline the procedures and results used to identify the original organism that the DNA was extracted from. The laboratory notebook may include text, tables, pictures, graphs, figures and links/additional data files.

Two versions of the laboratory notebook will be submitted. First submission will be worth 5% of total mark and second submission will be worth 20% of total mark.

Due Dates:

  • Submission 1 - dates/times TBD (before March 10, 2023 - 40th day of class)
  • Submission 2 - April 6, 2023 @ 4:00 pm, submit to Lab book 2 DropBox in CourseLink

(4) Participation (25% of final mark)
Students are expected to actively participate in weekly reading and discussion activities in both the classroom and the lab. Participation will be evaluated on a weekly basis. Students will receive two participation marks throughout the semester. The first mark will be provided to students on February 15, 2023 (worth 5% of total mark) and the second mark will be provided to students on April 6, 2023 (20% of total mark). Instructor/student meetings will be scheduled during February to discuss student progress in the course.

Final examination:

There is no final exam in this course.

Course Resources:

Required Resources


Recommended Resources

There is no required textbook for this course. The students are expected to use peer-reviewed scientific information for this course. Some examples of Journals include: Phytopathology, Molecular Plant Pathology, Plant Biotechnology. Journals are available on-line through the University of Guelph’s library subscription. In addition to these resources, students can consult the following for respective background information on cell biology.

  • Alberts et al. 2014. Molecular Biology of the Cell, 6th Edition, Garland Science, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. New York, NY, USA.
  • Buchanan et al. 2000. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Plants, American Society of Plant Physiologists, Courier Companies, Inc. MD, USA.
  • Urry et al. 2016. Campbell Biology, 11th Edition, Pearson Publishing, New York, NY, USA.

Course Policies:

Other Course Information:

University Policies

Academic Consideration

When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness or compassionate reasons, please advise the course instructor in writing, with your name, id#, and e-mail contact. See the academic calendar for information on regulations and procedures for Academic Consideration:

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University of Guelph students have the responsibility of abiding by the University's policy on academic misconduct regardless of their location of study; faculty, staff and students have the responsibility of supporting an environment that discourages misconduct. Students need to remain aware that instructors have access to and the right to use electronic and other means of detection. Please note: Whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of guilt. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it. Students who are in any doubt as to whether an action on their part could be construed as an academic offence should consult with a faculty member or faculty advisor.

The Academic Misconduct Policy is detailed in the University Calenders:


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