Exploration of Genetics and Genomics


Discoveries of the genomes of literally thousands of organisms inhabiting this planet have facilitated renewed emphasis on the study of life and its meaning in the social sciences and humanities as well as in the life sciences. For every individual, experiencing and living the implications of such scientific discoveries depends on understanding the social and personal complexity embedded within the many contexts and filters applied to genomic information – in research labs, computer science and data management, quantitative biology, ethics debates dealing with emerging technological capabilities, genome databases, social interactions, and policy deliberations. The goal of this cluster is to introduce and explore areas of genome research and analysis. Specifically, students will explore the computational, environmental, microbial, and ethical issues, respectively.  In the courses, students will devote significant time to reading and discussing the primary scientific literature, as well as interacting via small group activities, including computer programming and journal club-style presentations. This cluster is designed for students with widely varied interests to potential STEM majors who want to incorporate basic science, biomedical, computational sciences, and ethical/societal implications into their future academic and career plan.


Molecular Genetics and Microbiology 120FS/Public Policy 186FS — Ethics of Genome Research (EI, STS, SS)

Susanne Haga

Susanne Haga, Associate Professor at Duke University School of Medicine, Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine

This course will examine the ethical implications raised by genetic and genomic research.  Students will gain an understanding of historical basis of human subjects protections in the U.S., the ethical pillars of research, and the issues that arise from genetics and genomics research. Case studies in genomics research will be used to illustrate various ethical implications. Reading will consist of review papers of the history of human subjects protections, federal regulations of human subjects protections, actual informed consent documents, and scientific papers from the primary scientific literature to illustrate the nature of modern research in this field. 

Biology 138FS — Genomics of Symbiosis: Evolution, ecology, and genomics of symbiotic interactions (NS, R)

Francois M. Lutzoni

Francois M. Lutzoni, Professor of Biology

Symbiotic interactions are the norm rather than the exception in the natural world, yet species are usually seen and studied independently from each other. Here we explore the symbiotic connectivity among microbes and their hosts, ranging from parasitism to mutualism, by addressing questions at the junction of evolutionary biology, ecology, and genomics. Multidisciplinary research on microbiome model systems often translate to major medical advancements. One main goal of this course is for students to experience how scientists do, and think about, research. Readings will focus on primary research articles.

Linguistics 126FS - Evolutionary Genomics and the Emergence of Human Language (SS)

Gaillynn Clements

Gaillynn Clements, Lecturing Fellow in Linguistics

Multidisciplinary study beginning with Darwin’s transmutation of species and Victorian arguments of human language beginnings to modern genetic and genomic research helps re-create how human language has evolved and how linguists outline these beginnings and trace modern languages’ differences. Readings will show the breadth of this topic and include academic research in evolutionary theory, anatomy, modern genetic and genomic research, and linguistics and linguistic theory.

Molecular Genetics and Microbiology 138FS/PUBPOL 184FS - Synthetic Genomics: Science, Policy and Ethics (EI, STS, NS, SS)

Susanne Haga

Susanne Haga, Associate Professor at Duke University School of Medicine, Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine

This course will explore both the science behind synthetic genomics as well as related policy and ethical issues raised by these new advancements. It begins with an examination of science of synthetic genomics, focusing on key experiments, and integrates discussions on policy and ethical issues as the scientific field matured. Readings will include scientific publications, bioethical reports, government reports, and popular press.