Genomes: A Surprising Unique Fusion of Subjects. Exploration, Myths and Truths

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 12, 2021 - August 18, 20217/12 - 8/185 WeeksOnlineOpenOnlineSwapan Mallick

Course Description

Genomes are thrilling. Genomic data and its interpretation span many fields: a fusion of biology, history, geography, mathematics, religion, cultural anthropology - and more. Genomes are surprising: our world and in particular, humans have had a profound effect on genomes, a product of what we have done in the past. They are immensely informative and provide a mirror to life, describing: you as an individual, you as part of your family, your populations, and you as the latest result of dynamic evolution, as well as for every creature of every species.

Whilst it is remarkable that DNA was discovered as far back as two centuries ago, our understanding of what it, and what genomes can tell us is very much an active area of research. Every year, every month, new and exciting discoveries are made, sometimes overturning previous ideas, sometimes adding validity to concepts from other fields. It is an important instrument to open up the secrets of our world. However: our understanding is blinkered by our environment around us. It is believed by many that humans have contributed to profound changes in our world, both global and local, such as climate change, deforestation, and pollution but the impact of our genetics is often unrecognized.

In this course we will explore genomes and why they explain so much. Their power is unappreciated and our beliefs very much a product of the misinformation that often comes from sources which can be biased. Those which are not grounded in the repeated questioning, updating and sceptism of peer-reviewed science are often guilty of sensationalism. As a result, our insights are blurred. We will look carefully at what this fascinating field tells us, what it does not: the myths and the truths, exploring evolution, selection, the cultural effect of genomes both human and animal, and the future the field could bring. We will combine the many fields together that have driven genomics, a discipline of unusually diverse backgrounds. These concepts are presented in a developing, coherent framework and will expose the excitement and appreciation of genomes give.

With such an ever-changing field, reviews of different aspects of the course will be given as reading assignments, from the basic to more academic to interest ranges of ability and motivation. Assignments will cover the early development of genomics to extremely recent, and will thus be informative to both background and topical studies. Guided discussion of the reading material will mirror course material, and frequent open-ended questions in the form of written assignments will be given to promote understanding, allowing students who are particularly interested in one topic to explore freely. Presentations will be assigned where students choose from a range of projects, and students who choose similar (or the same) options can opt to work alone, or in groups. These may be recorded so that they can be viewed asynchronously. Comments and polls will be requested to other students to measure the internal opinions of the group. The only equipment needed for this course is a computer with wifi access.

The instructor has over a decade of experience in this field, working as a both researcher and director of informatics at Harvard, and is experienced in giving courses to a range of students from middle school to undergraduate level. His courses are fluid to allow changes based on the interest of students, and indeed subject matter can be guided or emphasized by ideas they wish to explore.

After completion of this course, students will have a novel insight to complement many well-studied fields both scientific and social. Such information is not typically covered as it considered too difficult, but it need not be. This will help inform why some basic assumptions in those fields are justified, and this type of perspective will provide an unusual advantage to the study and success of students at the college and post-graduate level.

Prerequisites: There are so many levels of this field and most people know little about genomics. And, since such studies bring together many different fields, this is an introductory course designed to appeal to those of disparate backgrounds. This is interestingly an advantage: each student brings a unique perspective that can challenge the increasing specialization of pupils today. The only real requirement for this course is the typical quest for knowledge.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEBI1018

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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