CB 399: Personal Genetics: Discussions about Technology, Inheritance, Medicine and Society Spring 2012

Intellectual Unit:

Personal Genetics: Discussions about Technology, Inheritance, Medicine and Society
Course Director: Dana Waring
Curriculum Fellow: Leah Brault
Lecturers: Marnie Gelbart, Lauren Tomaselli, Dana Waring

Personal genetics and genomics is a rapidly evolving branch of genomics in which individual genomes are analyzed to predict associations with disease or other traits of interest, giving individuals information they can use to make decisions about lifestyle, ancestry or medical care.  While the potential benefits of personal genetics are vast, this field also raises questions about educational priorities and approaches, privacy, access to information, and psychological impacts.  This course will address the societal ramifications related to personal genetics and genomics in diverse fields such as law, reproductive technology, public policy, and research ethics. 

Course lecturers will summarize the state of personal genetics in the scientific field and in our society and draw from real-life and historical situations to illustrate the knowledge and misconceptions common to the public. We will look at examples from the fields of athletics and forensics to illuminate larger questions around how greater access to DNA might impact society.   The aim of this nanocourse is to augment the capacity of our communities to make informed choices as we enter a new era of personal genetics.


First Session: Thursday, May 3, 2012 1 - 4 PM   
Location: Armenise Bldg (D) Amphitheater
Second Session: Thursday, May 10, 2012 1 - 4 PM
Location: TMEC Building, Room 126


DROP DEADLINE: Thursday, April 26, 2012





Assignment, Due Thursday May 10th, 2012 (registered students only):

The goal of this assignment is to closely explore a topic outside of your field of expertise related to personal genetics.  In addition to examining the scientific issues, you are to also to look at social, legal, political and historical aspects of this topic.  An example of this would be to summarize the state of scientific, peer reviewed research looking at the genetics of brain function as it relates to cognition and intelligence.  You also should provide some of the political and historical context for this research.  Another example would be microarray technology and its impact on the proliferation of direct to consumer genetic testing companies, say, in the area of reproductive genetic analysis.  Finally, translate these complex scientific and ELSI topics into a short, in-class presentation aimed at layperson audience.

In class presentation on May 10th:  We ask that each student (you are welcome to work individually or in groups of up to 3 people) be prepared to give a 3-5 minute summary of the topic they have chosen.  The audience for their presentation can be either aimed at a high school biology class or the general public. The presentation can include ideas for an in-class activity or a visual tool (pictures, slides, idea for a short video).

Deliverable: A 2-page, single-spaced summary (max 4 pages) of your research topic.  Please provide a bibliography consisting of 8-12 sources.   In addition to journal articles, please include editorials, reviews, and popular press articles, video clips or similar types of sources that are intended for a non-scientific audience.  


Ideas for lesson plans/topics for students to research:

  • Genetic testing of newborns
  • Comparing assisted-reproductive technology (ART) policies in different countries – England, US, Germany, India, China
  • Gene patenting (Myriad, Prometheus, CCR5), Genetic discrimination, GINA.
  • Athletics – HCM, sickle cell, direct-to-consumer marketplace
  • Intelligence – current research into cognitive function
  • Eugenics - historical and modern viewpoints
  • Personalized medicine/pharmacogenomics
  • Informed consent, evolving ideas of research “subject” to “participant”



Assigned reading (Papers are posted to this website):

1. Research ethics and the challenge of whole-genome sequencing. McGuire et al.

2.  Education and personalized genomics: deciphering the public's genetic health report.  Lamb et al.