Human Genetics

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses
Lecture, Open—Spring

The formation of an individual’s life is dependent upon a complex mixture of cultural experiences, social interactions, and personal health and physiology. At the center of this intricate web lies the biological components unique to each of us, yet shared in some form by all life on earth—our genes. Genes contribute much to what makes each of us an individual, from hair color and body shape to intelligence and personality. Such genes and traits are inherited from our parents, yet environmental factors can profoundly influence their function in different individuals. Stunning advancements in the field of genetics are reported every day, from the identification of new genes for particular traits to the development of gene-based tests for human diseases. But what exactly are genes and how do they work in humans? In this course, we will explore how genes and chromosomes provide the basic blueprint that leads to our unique physical and behavioral characteristics. In doing so, we will discuss the central concepts of human genetics, including: the mechanisms and patterns of inheritance, sex-linked traits, the genetics of behavior, DNA and proteins, the role of mutations in causing disease, human origins and evolution, and the application of various genetic technologies such as stem cells and genetically modified organisms. Readings will be drawn from texts, as well as from current popular-press and peer-reviewed articles. No previous background in biology is required, other than a curiosity and desire to understand the genetic mechanisms that shape human existence and make us who we are.