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Overview


Image source: XKCD

Course philosophy

This short article describes the ideas behind Useful Genetics: Why do we have to learn this stuff? A new genetics for 21st century students

Who might want to take this course?

  • People affected by or concerned about a genetic disease (either directly or in a family member)
  • People interested in the genetic diversity of humans or other species
  • People who have had (or are considering having) their genes or genomes analyzed by companies such as 23andMe
  • People concerned about the public use of personal genetic information
  • People interested in breeding animals or plants, or in in conservation of endangered species
  • People interested in genealogy and ancestry analysis
  • Health care professionals
  • Science teachers
  • Anyone interested in genetics but unable to enroll in university at this time

Syllabus

Useful Genetics is taught in two parts.  Students in Part 1 may want to also sign up for the separate course Useful Genetics Part 2.

Part 1.  Genes and their effects (6 weekly modules plus a final exam week)

Module 1. How different are we?  Introduction to DNA, genes and chromosomes and the relationships between human populations.  Ancestral interbreeding with Neanderthals.

Module 2. How DNA molecules change.  The causes and immediate consequences of mutations.

Module 3. DNA differences and gene functions.  How mutations that change gene activity or function affect the properties of organisms.  

Module 4. Mutations in regulatory genes. How mutations cause cancer. Sex determination and genes on sex chromosomes. 

Module 5.  Natural genetic variation. How natural genetic variation is studied, and how it differs from classical alleles. Heritability and genome-wide association studies.  Genetic variation for cancer risks.

Module 6.  Personal genomics.  Kinds of DNA typing and genome analysis, and what can be learned from them about health risks, personal attributes and ancestry.

Part 2.  Inheritance (taught as the separate course Useful Genetics Part 2)  (5 weekly modules plus a final exam week)

Module 7.  The mechanics of inheritance.  How genes and chromosomes are transmitted through the generations (including the molecular mechanisms of mitosis and meiosis).

Module 8.  Genetic analysis.  Using genetic crosses as a research tool to investigate how genes work and what they do.  Sex-linkage, pedigree analysis, and hypothesis testing.

Module 9. All about breeding and inbreeding.  More about heritability and association studies. Inbreeding in humans, crops and livestock, and evolution. Hybrids and genetically modified organisms.

Module 10.  Chromosomal changes.  Changes in the number of chromosomes and in how genes are arranged on them.  Genome evolution.

Module 11.  Selected advanced topics.  The origin of life, mitochondrial genes and mutations, genetic mosaicism, fetal DNA in mothers, epigenetic inheritance, and other topics students may suggest.