GENETICS, GENOMICS, GENETHICS
Since the 1944 discovery that DNA is the universal genetic code, this young science has advanced by leaps and bounds: scientists can now decipher, examine and modify the blueprints for life. As its title suggests, this course emphasizes the relation between the underlying science of genetics, the study of genomes (genomics), and the social, ethical, and legal issues that this work gives rise to genethics. Learners investigate topics such as the history of genetic discovery and molecular lab techniques, and emerge with an understanding of the science and the technology behind breakthroughs like therapeutic cloning and the sequencing of the human genome.
The first part of the course gives learners an opportunity to grapple with the basics of genetics: the underlying science that deals with the transmission of hereditary characteristics and their mechanisms. Starting with an examination of the work of Gregor Mendel, it brings learners up to date on the foundations of modern genetics and explores related issues such as the nature-nurture debate, the theory of evolution, and the role of genetic diversity. The course goes on to investigate what’s involved in the study of genomics: the technology and science of all the DNA in a cell. Discussions focus on medical advances, and the goals of the Human Genome Project.
Advances in genome research lead directly to an examination of genethics, the social, ethical, and legal implications of developments such as genetically modified organisms, cloning for therapeutic and reproductive purposes, genetic enhancement of humans, and the ownership of genetic information. Throughout the course, online interaction, scientist-authored essays, video, and simulations enable students to investigate genetic variation and similarities and develop a structure for thinking about ethical issues.
Student Learning Outcomes
In this course, students will:
This is a six-week online graduate course with an additional week for assignment completion. The course is asynchronous and does not have specific meeting times. Assignments and discussions change on a weekly basis. Students are expected to complete work within the specific week it is assigned.
For the current schedule of offerings, please visit www.amnh.org/learn/calendar
This graduate course is co-taught by an experienced educator along with a research scientist.
For current instructor information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This course requires the following textbook:
Welcome to the Genome: A User’s Guide to the Genetic Past, Present, and Future (Second Edition)
By Rob DeSalle, Michael Yudell
Hardcover: 280 pages
Publisher: Wiley; (September 2020)
The following textbooks are recommended as general references but are not required.
The Gene: An Intimate History
by Siddartha Mukherjee
Publisher: Scribner (2016)
The Human Genome Curiosity Guide
by John Quackenbush
Publisher: Imagine (2011)
Modern Prometheus: Editing the Human Genome with Crispr-Cas9
by James Kozubek
Publisher: Cambridge University Press (2016)
Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth
by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle
Publisher: Texas A&M (2011)
Junk DNA: A Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome
by Nessa Carey
Publisher: Columbia University Press (2015)
The Age of Genomes: Tales from the Front Lines of Genetic Medicine
by Steven Monroe Lipkin
Publisher: Beacon Press (2016)
Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters
by Matt Ridley
Publisher: HarperCollins; (February 2000)
Technical support is available by calling (800) 649-6715 or emailing email@example.com.
The American Museum of Natural History welcomes learners with disabilities into its Seminars on Science program and will make reasonable accommodations for them. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you require information about requesting accommodation services. These services are only available to registered students with documented disabilities. Please submit requests at least two weeks prior to the start of the course.
Assessments are based on a detailed grading rubric developed for this course:
Option I: Application in the Classroom
This option is for learners who would like an opportunity to develop an application based on the course content that could be taught to students or other educators. The final form may be a unit or workshop plan (if it will be used as part of a professional development experience).
Option II: Application in Ethics
This option is for learners who would like an opportunity to further explore the ethical issues related to the Science content presented in this course. The task is to choose one of the ethical questions raised and examine various viewpoints or perspectives.
Weekly Overview and Expectations
Week 1: Introduction
During the first week learners are introduced to the course authors, Drs. Rob DeSalle and Claudia Englbrecht, and begin to explore the history of the science of genetics. An introductory essay defines key terms and previews the science, technology, and ethics of molecular biology. The history of genetics is examined with an in depth look at the experiments of Gregor Mendel. A foundation for the rest of the course is established by a review of some of the basics of genetics including how hereditary units, called genes, are transmitted and expressed. Learners are also introduced to a structure for thinking ethically that will frame an examination of social issues that arise as our knowledge of our genome increases.
Week 2: Nature versus Nurture
Nature and nurture is a phrase used widely to express the long-standing debate about whether genes are the primary influence on who you are or whether environmental influences play a role. The first essay this week explores the evidence showing that neither of these extremes is correct; we are the result of cooperation between genes and the environment. Next we consider the evolution of species by means of mutation, natural selection, and chance. In the final essay this week, learners begin to wrestle with how the genetic revolution affects political and social issues as Guest Lecturer Barbara Schaal discusses genetic modification in plants. An assignment allows us to investigate the presence of genetically modified foods in our homes.
Week 3: The Human Genome
In the year 2000, the company Celera and the official Human Genome Project (in a joint venture) announced the first working draft of the human genome. During this week we will examine the importance of this announcement and look at some of its implications. The week begins by defining what a genome is and how it differs from person to person. We then review the history of genetic lab techniques and the impact technology has had on this science. The uses of model organisms, or genetic pets, are introduced and compared. In a guest lecture, Eric Green, the Director of the National Institutes of Health Sequencing Center, explains the history of and the reasons for the Human Genome Project. An assignment allows learners to explore an online catalog of human genes and genetic disorders and information from last week’s investigation of genetically modified food will serve as background for a discussion of this controversial topic. This week, learners also begin to consider the final project options.
Week 4: Applications of the Human Genome Project
The Human Genome Project (HGP) is not yet finished, and there have already been issues raised about how to handle and use the enormous amount of data it has generated. This week, learners find out how a new technology called microarrays is opening up all kinds of new possibilities. In a guest lecture, Leroy Hood presents his suggestions and his approach to processing and interpreting the volume of data that grows daily. One of the major long-term goals of the HGP is the assessment of human variation. Why is human variation so interesting, and why could it become important for everybody? Learners will gain insight into recent scientific advancements on this subject. A computer simulation will allow manipulation of variables involved in the process of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR).
Week 5: The Ethical Implications of Reshaping our World
The Genomic Age has yielded amazing breakthroughs, but it will also affect and challenge our traditional views of morality and ethics. In a short summary, Dr. Rob DeSalle introduces the complex subject of genethics and defines several questions that society is likely to face in the near future. In a guest lecture, David and Sheila Rothman discuss the pros and cons of using human gene-technology for the purpose of life improvement rather than to cure disease. The implications of new cloning technologies are presented, with some focus on the controversy surrounding the issue of cloning humans. A unique application of PCR for the identification and conservation of an endangered species is discussed. An assignment provides an opportunity for the consideration of ethical issues involved in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Learners submit an outline of their final project.
Week 6: The Ethical Implications of Reshaping our World (Part II)
The Genomic Age has yielded amazing progress and breakthroughs in science, but it will also affect and challenge our traditional views of morality and ethics. In a short summary, Rob DeSalle introduces the complex subject of genethics. In a guest lecture, David and Sheila Rothman discuss the pros and cons of genetic enhancement and the use of gene-technology for the purpose of life improvement rather than to cure disease. The implications of new cloning technologies are presented, with some focus on the controversy surrounding the issue of cloning humans. Medicine in our present time allows us to live much longer than our predecessors ever could have dreamed. What will the future bring? Learners submit an outline of their final project. DNA fingerprinting. Troy Duster with the social spin-offs of genetic technology and the possibility that this tech can lead to discrimination for some members of the population. Arthur Caplan discusses some actual moral dilemmas that have been faced be clinics today. Promise to be more common and more difficult as the technology advances.