Genetics: From Mendel to Watson & Crick and Beyond
Professor Mary Beth Davis

This course will be held at the Independence Branch of the Free Library, located at 18 S. 7th Street (7th and Market Streets), Philadelphia.


  1. Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - Introduction to Genetics
    We will discuss basic concepts from classical genetics. What does it mean "to have a gene for a trait" and what does it mean for a trait to be dominant or recessive? The historic work of the monk Gregor Mendel on patterns of inheritance as well as later extensions to Mendel's original ideas will be presented.
  2. Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - Watson & Crick and the Structure of DNA
    The story behind the publication of  Watson and Crick's seminal paper describing the structure of DNA is filled with great scientific work, colorful personalities, intrigue, and competition. While beginning our study of  DNA structure and molecular genetics, we will also consider the process of science and life inside the laboratory.
  3. Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - Genetic Instruction and Action: DNA to RNA to Protein
    DNA is often referred to as the "blueprint of life" because it contains instructions in the form of a genetic code for the growth and development of organisms. Crick coined the term "Central Dogma of Molecular Biology" to denote the transmission of information from DNA to RNA to protein. Crick also did important experiments that contributed to deciphering the genetic code.
  4. Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - Regulation of Gene Expression
    Cells have a multitude of exquisitely fine ways to control the usage of genes in the genome. This class will cover some basic mechanisms for controlling gene usage, including the emerging field of epigenetics. Epigenetics research is beginning to shed light on how environmental factors such as nutrition and toxins may influence the activity of genes.
  5. Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - Genetics and Cancer
    The many types of human cancers are characterized by uncontrolled cell growth and the accumulation of mutations in several different genes. This lecture will describe three classes of normal genes (proto-oncogenes, tumor-suppressor, and DNA repair genes) which, if mutated, can have pronounced effects on tumor growth. The work of the Cancer Genome Atlas will also be highlighted.
  6. Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - Genomics and Personalized Medicine

    The completion of the Human Genome Project has stimulated research into how an individual's health is influenced by their unique genetic makeup and environmental circumstances, and how these factors contribute to an individual's response to medications. We will discuss technical developments in this field that are contributing to advances in health care. In addition, many commercial companies now offer the opportunity for individuals to purchase direct-to-consumer genetic tests and genome profiling. We will discuss the personal and ethical dilemmas associated with pursuing these types of commercial tests.

Snow Date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013


April 2013 will mark the 60th anniversary of James Watson and Frances Crick's  publication describing the structure of DNA. In the years since this landmark discovery, the field of genetics has advanced rapidly from elucidating DNA structure and the genetic code to developing revolutionary technologies for medicine and agriculture. This class is an informal "introduction to genetics" with a focus on learning about what genes are and how they function. We will also discuss practical applications of genetic technology to research in medicine and basic biological science.


Online resources about genetics will be available at the website for the Genetics Series at the Wagner Free Institute of Science:

For those who would like to refer to a text, you may consider the following book written for the general public by Francis S. Collins, MD/PhD, Director of the National Institutes of Health.

The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine. By Francis S. Collins. 2011. Paperback.


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