We often see reports in the news about things that are based on biology. Unfortunately, we lack the necessary understanding of what is going on to have a critical opinion. Words and phrases such as ‘genetic determinism’, ‘cloning’, ‘genetic manipulation’, ‘fight against death’, ‘eugenics’, ‘artificial selection’, ‘inheritance of intelligence’, ‘evolution of behaviour’ or ‘personalized medicine’ have become fairly commonplace, yet interpreting them properly requires knowledge we may not have.
In the course Why Biology Matters: Basic Concepts we aimed to explain the basics of the main biological processes and their social and ethical implications in plain, focused language. Our overall goal was to equip students with the basics for a biological understanding of humans, in order to respond to questions arising outside biology to which biology has answers.
In this second course, Why Biology Matters: The Genome and You we will focus on the specific questions that knowledge of our genome may be able to answer or, at least, afford us a deeper understanding of ourselves. We will begin with the basic concepts of genetic inheritance and how traits are passed down from one generation to the next. We will then zoom in on the genome, beginning with an explanation of the genome of a single individual (my own genome, in this case). After that, we will gradually draw back to look at the genome in families, the community, the general population and humans as a whole with a view to determining what information the genome can provide. We will also take a look at current issues stemming from the genetic databases we already have for large numbers of individuals. We will close the course with an exploration of genome manipulation and the social and philosophical implications of genomic data.
You may be interested in the course as a layperson: many human affairs have implications related to our genome and knowledge of it. However, it may also be of interest due to the need for many disciplines to take greater account of the biological bases of humans and the implications of our knowledge about genomes. This includes psychology, economics, sociology, human evolution, philosophy and linguistics, amongst others. Getting a better grounding in your biology, in your DNA, will give you deeper insight into yourself and the world around you.
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