Useful Genetics Part 1

Rosemary Redfield, The University of British Columbia

This college-level course gives students a thorough understanding of gene function, and enables them to apply this understanding to real-world issues, both personal and societal. This is Part 1 of a two-part course; Part 2 focuses on the study of of how genes and traits are inherited.


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.

Recommended Background

You will need some prior knowledge of basic biology (first-year college or a recent good high-school course).  A self-assessment pre-test will be provided to students who enroll in the course, and additional activities and readings will be made available for students who want to improve their preparation.

Suggested Readings

The course will use free online textbooks as its primary reading resource.  Links to these and to preparatory readings for students with little biology background will be provided before the course starts.

Course Format

The two parts of Useful Genetics consist of six (Part 1) and five (Part 2) weekly modules, each comprising about 15 explanatory videos (5-15 minutes in length) and two challenging quizzes (self-test problems and graded homework problems).  Each part's modules are accompanied by two peer-assessed explanation assignments and followed by a final exam.

FAQ

Statements of Accomplishment: Students who earn 50% or better will receive a Statement of Accomplishment; those earning 80% or better will receive a Statement of Accomplishment with Distinction.

Verified Certificates: Students may choose to enroll in the optional Signature Track, which provides an identity-verified Certificate.
Dates:
  • 5 September 2014, 6 weeks
  • 1 November 2013, 6 weeks
  • 1 May 2013, 12 weeks
  • Date to be announced, 6 weeks
Course properties:
  • Free:
  • Paid:
  • Certificate:
  • MOOC:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Email-course:
  • Language: English Gb

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