Topics in Genetics: The Strange World of the Nucleus and its Social Implications

The objective of this course is two-fold. First, to provide a relatively comprehensive overview of the phenomena involving DNA so that the students will not only gain a broad basic understanding of the nucleus but hopefully also an appreciation for its amazingly elaborate and effective world. What are genes, introns, inteins, transposable elements, microRNAs, telomeres, enhancers, transcription factors, etc.? Second, that the students become able to situate this knowledge in its socio-historical context, and to critically reflect upon this interaction. For instance, what do we mean, from the biological and the philosophical standpoints, when we talk about health issues or behaviors and say, “That’s in my genes”, or “That’s in my DNA”? Is it always an accurate and useful view, based on today’s knowledge? How did we arrive at this way of thinking? What are its psychological and social consequences? Discussion and coursework will be based on readings drawn from primary research articles, historical and philosophical essays as well as media for the general public.

Juliette Colinas:

Juliette Colinas has a life-long interest in environmental issues. This led her to first study Biochemistry at McGill University in Montreal. Meanwhile she discovered Genomics, and pursed a doctorate in that field, which she completed in 2006 at Duke University in Durham, USA. This experience made her curious about the social and historical underpinnings of the scientific process, and brought her back to her initial interest in environmental issues, but this time from a social perspective. After spending some time working as a helper on organic farms and studying Philosophy, she turned to Environmental Sociology, and completed an MSc in Environment at McGill University in 2016. See here for more information, and here for a list of publications.