Genetics and Genomics: Epigenetics, Environment, and Ethics


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, s ocial interactions, and policy deliberations. The goal of this cluster is to explore fundamental and recent concepts in the genetics and genomics. Students will explore the biomedical, biological, historical, technological, and ethical implications of scientific advances, as well as the questions that such advances pose for understanding our past and contemplating the future of biomedicine and diversity in biological systems. Each of the courses in the cluster will explore this theme from a different perspective, enabling students to evaluate the issues that we face as a society, as potential future scientists, and as individual citizens. 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, and societal implications into their future academics and careers.


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. Open only to students in the FOCUS program.

Environment 148FS/Biology 148FS/Genome 148FS — Genomics of host-microbe interactions: The symbiotic web (NS, R, STS)

Francois Lutzoni

Francois Lutzoni, Professor of Biology

Genomic approaches have uncovered a microbial world of astonishing diversity, including numerous microbes that interact with hosts. Our own bodies contain 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells and 150 times more bacterial genes than human genes. A deeper appreciation of microbial interactions is revolutionizing our understanding of life’s history, ecology, and human health. This course will explore how hosts and microbes affect each other’s genomes, trajectories of parasitism and mutualism, ecological significance of microbial symbionts of plants, fungi, and animals, as well as molecular and cellular mechanisms of homeostasis. Open only to students in the FOCUS program.

Chemistry 190FS - Microscopic Phenomena in the Macroscopic World (NS, CZ, EI, STS, W)

David N. Beratan

David N. Beratan, R.J. Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Chemistry

Jonathan Schultz, Postdoctoral Fellow, Chemistry

In this Focus course, we will explore how the macroscopic world emerges from the quirky nature of the microscopic realm. We will employ a bottom-up approach to learn how both natural (i.e. photosynthesis, enzymatic activity) and artificial (i.e. energy harvesting, quantum computers) technologies rely on properties on the molecular level. Through group discussions, research projects, and debates, we will collaboratively engage with topics and critically assess fundamental questions that have continued to baffle humanity for over a century. This concept- and idea-based course is inclusive of students from all backgrounds and prior educational experiences. Students are not expected to major in chemistry (or even STEM), but rather they should have an interest in how the universe works and how the microscopic realm can have nearly unimaginable impacts on the macroscopic world.

Biology 208 FS: Computing on the Genome: An Introduction to Genomics and Bioinformatics (NS, QS)


Paul Magwene, Associate Professor of Biology

This course will provide an introduction to key concepts of the genome sciences, using tools and concepts from computational biology and bioinformatics. Topics to be covered include genome structure, function, variation, and evolution. Students will learn to how apply basic computational and statistical methods for describing and quantifying various aspects of genome biology and will apply these tools to real world data. No prior programming or statistical experience is required. Open only to students in the FOCUS program.