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.

Biology 128FS - Evolutionary Genomics: Who are we, where have we been, and where are we going? (NS, STS)

Anne Yoder

Anne Yoder, Braxton Craven Distinguished Professor of Evolutionary Biology; Professor of Biology; Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology

The genomics revolution has generated huge datasets that allow us to gaze into our past, present, and future in ways that were beyond imagining when Darwin's theory of Natural Selection was introduced to the world more than 150 years ago.  The unification of genomic data, bioinformatic analysis, and evolutionary theory has transformed our understanding of human history, our place within the Tree of Life, and the impact that our species is having on those with whom we share the planet.  Evolutionary genomics has also allowed powerful new insights into human vulnerabilities to disease pandemics, their origins, and their likely trajectories.  This course will draw from the primary literature to familiarize students with the multifaceted power of genomics, with a slant towards examining human history and disease from an evolutionary perspective.  When possible, published studies will be read along with reports from the popular press in order to provoke discussion of science communication strategies. Readings will be drawn from a wide variety of sources, from some published more than a century ago, up through the contemporary popular press.  As 50% of your grade, students will be responsible for choosing a relevant topic for scholarly exploration and evaluation.  The results of this project will be presented in both written (a critical essay) and verbal (a class presentation) formats. 

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.