Biology 398. Experimental Courses
This course combines the approaches of the engineer and the biologist to investigate how organisms function. For example, we will use fluid dynamics to investigate how a fish’s fin shape affects swimming performance, and principles of scaling to understand why there are no elephant-sized mice. We will explore these and other basic physical principles that guide an organism’s mechanical design and its interaction with the environment. Three hours per week: lab and lecture based.
Recent studies have revived the once-scoffed idea that inheritance of traits can be influenced by the environment. It is increasingly appreciated that changes not only to the DNA code, but also outside this genetic code (epigenetic), can alter expression of genes in a heritable manner. This course will explore how environmental factors like diet and chemical exposure can leave indelible marks on DNA packaging proteins that are passed through parents to future generations and alter traits. We will contrast classic genetic mutation with the equally profound influence of epigenetic variation on inheritance and evolution. We will learn biochemical mechanisms by which DNA and associated chromatin proteins are modified, and how developmental and environmental conditions impact those mechanisms. We will survey epigenetic phenomena, and the genomic and biochemical tools used to study them, in a range of species including humans. Also, we will consider how abnormal epigenetic regulation contributes to cancer and neurological/psychological disorders, and epigenetic therapies. Topics include chromatin modification, genomic imprinting, dosage compensation, stem cell nuclear reprogramming, small regulatory RNA, and epigenetics in cancer and psychology. Readings will be from a mixture of textbook, review articles, and primary research literature, building critical thinking skills. Students will be active participants in presentations and discussions that will shed new light on the nature versus nurture debate.
Textbook: Epigenetics, CSHL Press, edited by Allis, Junuwein, and Reinberg Other reading: up-to-date review articles and selected primary research papers.