HC 441H : Who am I? A Genetic Inquiry

Professor: Amy Connolly

4.00 credits

  • CRN 22638: Tuesday & Thursday, 1015-1145 @ REMOTE

“Who Am I?” You may have asked yourself this question repeatedly in your life and found a myriad of ways to answer it. In this class, we will be looking at how commercially available services like 23andMe answer this question by looking at your genes. For $200, 23andMe extracts DNA from your saliva, and gives you information about your traits, health, and ancestry. You can learn where your ancestors came from, and whether they ever interbred with Neanderthals. You can learn the genetic explanation for why you have red hair or are lactose intolerant. You may discover you carry a genetic disease like Cystic Fibrosis. Or you could even find out something more serious, like whether you are at an elevated risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. Just how much of this would you want to know about yourself? And to what extent is your destiny written in your DNA?

In this class, we will sort through complex questions like these. You will learn the principles of genetics, examine genetic data generated by 23andMe, discover how they make their predictions, and critically evaluate the strengths and limitations of these test results.  Additionally, you will learn how our genes influence our sex, how ancestry is predicted (and its limitations), how new gene therapy treatments are being designed to suit individual patients, and how CRISPR gene editing works. We will also discuss the ethical dilemma that comes with an increased ability for parents to select for or against specific traits. We will also examine the role early geneticists played in eugenics and contributing to ideas of scientific racism, which will lead us to examine the ethical concerns modern geneticists must face today regarding diversity.  These are just some of the questions we will explore in this class on human genetics. You will have a term project that will require you to use real results from 23andMe. You will have the option to make the term paper about yourself by using your own genetic data or you can use sample data. Whatever you decide, at the end of the term you will have a new way to consider just who you are.