Since the 1944 discovery that DNA is the universal genetic code, this young science has advanced by leaps and bounds: scientists can now decipher, examine and modify the blueprints for life. As its title suggests, this course emphasizes the relation between the underlying science of genetics, the study of genomes (genomics), and the social, ethical, and legal issues that this work gives rise to (genethics). Learners investigate topics such as the history of genetic discovery and molecular lab techniques, and emerge with an understanding of the science and the technology behind breakthroughs like therapeutic cloning and the sequencing of the human genome. The first part of the course gives learners an opportunity to grapple with the basics of genetics: the underlying science that deals with the transmission of hereditary characteristics and their mechanisms. Starting with an examination of the work of Gregor Mendel, it brings learners up to date on the foundations of modern genetics and explores related issues such as the nature-nurture debate, the theory of evolution, and the role of genetic diversity. The course goes on to investigate what's involved in the study of genomics: the technology and science of all the DNA in a cell. Discussions focus on medical advances, and the goals of the Human Genome Project. Advances in genome research lead directly to an examination of genethics, the social, ethical, and legal implications of developments such as genetically modified organisms, cloning for therapeutic and reproductive purposes, genetic enhancement of humans, and the ownership of genetic information. Throughout the course, online interaction, scientist-authored essays, video, and simulations enable students to investigate genetic variation and similarities and develop a structure for thinking about ethical issues.
*All course information is from the 2013-2014 Catalog.