Curriculum & Course Descriptions


BS3015 The RNA World

Course Coordinator: Assistant Professor Francesc Xavier Roca CASTELLA (email:

Academic Unit: 3 AU

Availability: Semester 2

Pre-requisite: BS1006

Course Type: BS-Major-PE, BMS-Major-PE

Language of instruction: English

Teaching hours: Lectures: 26 hours; Tutorials: 13 hours

Learning Objective: To learn about the multiple types and biological roles of RNA, the most versatile molecule in life, as it is capable of encoding, storing and transmiting genetic information, as well as performing catalysis. This course will provide a strong foundation not only for research in RNA fields, but also for biopharma, teaching and healthcare sector jobs that deal with RNA. Topics include the most important areas of RNA biology, ranging from the traditional messenger, transfer, ribosomal and catalytic RNAs, to the novel small RNA pathways. This course will also cover classical techniques of RNA research, as well as the state-of-the-art RNA sequencing analyses. Students will also be introduced to the ‘RNA World’ theory, positing that life originated from RNA molecules capable of both storing genetic information and catalysis, which subsequently evolved to a protein-based catalysis. Finally, the course will describe the role of RNAs in the regulation of important cellular and physiological processes, and the alterations of RNA function leading to human genetic disease as well as RNA-based therapies.

Content: The course consists of one two-hour-long lecture for each topic below, during which general concepts and terminology will be covered. The one-hour-long tutorials are intended to be a forum of discussion over a research article, which will be presented by the lecturer. In addition, the students will carry out an assignment, consisting on crafting a ‘News and Views’ essay over a research article selected from a list (estimated time 14 hours). The essay should include an introduction to the field, a description of the paper with its impact on related research, including a critical opinion on the strengths and caveats of the results, and finally a delineation of unanswered major questions and future directions (maximum 1,200 words). Extensive consultation based on personal and electronic communication will be provided to students.

Learning Outcome: The main goal of this course is for the students to be familiar with the basic and novel types and functions of RNAs, as well as the integration of these molecules in physiological and pathological contexts. This course covers many distinct concepts with the unified theme of RNA biology. Students will also learn about the ‘RNA World’ theory, which implies a deep understanding of the diverse roles of RNA. Technological approaches to RNA research will be covered, as well as the application of this research to the diagnosis and therapy of genetic diseases. Upon completion of this course, students will have a basic knowledge of RNA biology that will be useful to research, industry and other positions.


Reference for the course consist of scientific publications and other online material provided during the course.

*Prerequisites for Incoming Exchange Students: Equivalent of Year 2 or Higher Biology or Biotechnology Major