Genetics and Genomics: Epigenetics, Environment, and Ethics

  • First Dinner Seminar for Genetics Students
    First Dinner Seminar for Genetics Students
  • Professors talk to parents at Parents Weekend
    Professors talk to parents at Parents Weekend
  • 2 Genome Students in Lab
    2 Genome Students in Lab
  • Beth Sullivan's Fall 2020 Focus Course
    Beth Sullivan's Fall 2020 Focus Course
  • Francois Lutzoni's Fall 2020 class
    Francois Lutzoni's Fall 2020 class


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 222FS — Genetics and Epigenetics: The codes that control our genomes (NS)

Beth Sullivan

Beth Sullivan, Professor in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

Many inherited developmental, cellular, and physiological traits are not caused by changes in DNA sequence, but instead are shaped by factors such as age, diet, or environment. This course will examine sequence-independent (epigenetic) regulation of the human genome, genetic and non-genetic diseases, genetic diversity within populations, environmental factors that influence our genome, and multi-generational inheritance of epigenetic information (i.e. how grandparental or parental experiences shape descendants’ genome function). It will also cover genome engineering and genome editing for therapy and disease correction. Topics will be anchored in human genetics, although model systems (mouse, roundworm, yeasts, fruit fly, zebrafish, plants) will also be discussed. Individuals involved in key genetic and epigenetic discoveries and their unique backgrounds and contributions to science will also be highlighted. This course involves extensive reading and discussion of the primary scientific literature (historical and current), online learning evaluation, and weekly written email assignments. In-class participation/discussion is a large component of the course. Open to students in the FOCUS program only. Instructor: Beth Sullivan

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

Jennifer Wernegreen

Jennifer Wernegreen, Lee Hill Snowdon Associate Professor of Environmental & Evolutionary Genomics, Director of Graduate Studies, Environment PhD program

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.

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.

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

Paul Magwene

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. 

Faculty Director

Beth Sullivan
Beth Sullivan
  • Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
213 Research Drive, 361 CARL, Durham, NC, 27701
Campus Box: 
Box 3054 DUMC, 361 Carl, Durham, NC 27701
(919) 668-9038