A journey through the historical development of our understanding of genes and their role in the development and evolution of living organisms. This course will emphasize the process of scientific discovery, from Mendel’s “heritable factors” to Crick’s “central dogma” of molecular biology and our ever-growing ability to manipulate genetic information. Open to majors and non-majors students.

This course is meant to help you...

  • describe what genes are and how they work.
  • speak/write helpfully[1] about (a) the power of genes to shape organisms, (b) the limits of that power, and as a result (c) the importance of the interactions between genes (“nature”) environment (“nurture”) and chance, in shaping an organism.
  • demystify the biological role of DNA, both for yourself and for others.
  • tell stories of how we came to know what we know…:
    • about how traits are transmitted from one generation to the next
    • about where genes are physically located in cells
    • about the physiological activity of genes (what a gene does)
    • about the chemical nature of genetic information
    • about the storage, replication, and expression of genetic information
  • predict the effects or results of genetic crosses involving various types of dominance, and sex linkage
  • use results of genetic crosses (or pedigrees) to evaluate hypotheses about genetic relationships, modes of inheritance, dominance relationships between alleles, and sex linkage.
  • describe how a gene (DNA) exerts an influence over an organism’s phenotype (observable characteristics).
  • strengthen your understanding of science: an activity that is on the one hand human, imperfect, incomplete, and subject to ambiguity and uncertainty, but on the other hand produces increasingly reliable descriptions of our world.



[1] What does it mean to speak/write “helpfully”? In a nutshell, I think of “helpful” communication as being a lot like good teaching: that, when a question about genetics arises, you can provide or find an answer that is relevant, understandable, informative, and accurate. The fact that this course is a “W” (writing) course is meant to help you develop and refine your skills in written communication.