Monday, January 7, 2013

Introduction to Genetics and Evolution (coursera free course)

Mohamed Noor

A whirlwind introduction to evolution and genetics, from basic principles to current applications, including how disease genes are mapped and how we leverage evolutionary concepts to aid humanity.

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About the Course

Introduction to Genetics and Evolution gives interested people a very basic overview of the principles behind these very fundamental areas of biology.  We often hear about new "genome sequences," commercial kits that can tell you about your ancestry (including pre-human) from your DNA or disease predispositions, debates about the truth of evolution, and why animals behave the way they do.  This course provides the basic biology you need to understand all of these issues better and tries to clarify some misconceptions.  No prior coursework is assumed.

About the Instructor

 Dr. Mohamed Noor is the Earl D. McLean Professor and Associate Chair of Biology at Duke University.  His expertise is in molecular evolution, and a large part of his research has been devoted to trying to understand the genetic changes that ultimately lead to the formation of new species. More recently, his research team has used fruit fly species to understand the causes and evolutionary consequences of variation in rates of genetic recombination/ exchange.

Dr. Noor has received several awards for research, teaching, and mentoring, and has been active in the scientific community, including serving as president of the American Genetic Association, chair of the NIH study section in Genetic Variation and Evolution, and editor of the journal Evolution.

Course Syllabus

  • Evidence for evolution
  • Introduction to basic genetics
  • Recombination and genetic mapping simple traits
  • Complications to genetic mapping
  • Genes vs. environment
  • Basic population genetics and Hardy-Weinberg
  • Gene flow, differentiation, inbreeding
  • Natural selection and genetic drift
  • Molecular evolution
  • Evolutionary applications and misapplications
  • Adaptive behaviors and species formation

Recommended Background

No prior coursework in the subject is assumed. It would be helpful for the application of some concepts to have a working knowledge of High School level math, including basic algebra. While useful for solving the assigned problems, this is not essential to understand and follow the general concepts and otherwise enjoy the class.

Suggested Readings

Although the class is largely self-contained, students wanting reinforcement on some of the lecture topics and/ or to expand their knowledge beyond what we cover in class can find a compelling treatment of the evidence for evolution (as well as related topics) in this short book:
Coursera is a for-profit educational technology company founded by computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller from Stanford University. Coursera partners with various universities and makes a few of their courses available online free for a large audience. As of November 2012 more than 1,900,241 students from 196 countries have enrolled in at least one course (although only "hundreds of thousands" have taken courses and completion rates are 7-9% -- reported in a Daphne Koller interview with Knowledge@Wharton)
Coursera, located in Mountain View, California, was launched shortly after Udacity, another for-profit online education venture by former Stanford Professor Sebastian Thrun, and shortly before edX, a not-for-profit online education initiative by MIT, Harvard, and the University of California, Berkeley.

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