Part II Genetics consists of 5 modules, which everyone studies. We want eour students to leave with a broad view of genetics, and therefore we do not operate an options system. The modules aim to cover the range of genetics, from cellular to organism level, and will show how classical genetics, together with the latest developments in molecular genetics, are being applied to the problems of how genes in different species are organised, expressed and interact to give the final phenotype.
Each module consists of 22-24 hours of lectures. In addition there are one or two seminars or discussion sessions linked with each module, together with data handling and journal criticism sessions. These provide training in problem solving, the evaluation of scientific papers, and offer a chance to explore some of the social and ethical aspects of genetics. Supervisions on the lecture material are provided by the lecturers (most of whom are based in the Genetics Department).
Module 1 : Chromosomes and the Cell Cycle
This module focuses on the organisation and behaviour of chromosomes, the complex processes designed to ensure the equal segregation of genes and chromosomes into daughter cells at cell division, and what happens when this goes wrong. We explore the organisation of DNA into chromatin; the structure of chromosomes and chromosome condensation; the arrangement of chromosomes in interphase; euchromatin and heterochromatin; centromeres and telomeres; and chromosomal disease. We then consider the eukayotic cell cycle and the way in which it is controlled through a series of checkpoints and a complex pattern of protein phosphorylation, mediated through cyclin-dependent kinases and reversible protein phosphatases, and by ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis. Cancer will be viewed in terms of disruption of these proliferation controls. Finally, events in late M phase will be considered, including cytokinesis.
Module 2 : Plant and Microbial Genetics
Plasmids, transposable elements, integrons and conjugative transposons are sources of unregulated change in the genomes of prokaryotes. The mechanisms by which plasmids make themselves independent by taking control of their replication and distribution to daughter cells will be considered. Topics include local and global control mechanisms, biological amplifiers, growth phase-dependent gene expression and quorum sensing. As adventitious colonisers, bacteria are able to cope with extreme and rapid changes to their environment. Many of these changes result in damage to the cell and the genetic material, but intracellular mechanisms both repair the damage and post sentinels to perceive damage and protect the cell. The course will provide an introduction to microbial pathogenesis; topics will include a description of approaches used to identify virulence factors, discussion of bacterial genome dynamics and classification of the virulence factors of pathogenic bacteria. We then move on to the genetics of higher plants, including conventional, molecular plant genetics. The course also illustrates the impact of transgenesis and genomics on pure and applied aspects of plant biology.
Module 3 : Developmental Genetics
This module will cover developmental biology with an emphasis on the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms, illustrated using examples from different model organisms, such as S. cerevisiae, C. elegans, Drosophila melanogaster, frogs, fish, chicks and mouse. It will begin with a few lectures covering general principles of developmental mechanisms. This will be followed by in depth exploration of particular developmental processes and the current state of the field in the different areas. This will include the establishment of body axes in development embryos, the movements and polarity of cells in gastrulation and the formation of tissues, the roles of transcription regulation in cell fate determination, the regulation of gene networks in development, signalling mechanisms and the relationship between cell signalling and transcription during pattern formation, and properties and functions of stem cells in adults and cancer.
Module 4 : Human Genetics, Genomics and Systems Biology
First we focus on human genetics, the genetic basis of human disease, and the role genomics plays in tackling it. Humans are a problem for the geneticist, because we don't do experiments on ourselves, but also because the variation available for study is limited to that occurring naturally in the population. Human genetics has always had to exploit technology to obtain answers to the problems it poses. Beginning with approaches based on formal genetics, which lead to an understanding of the human genetic system, we move to an exploration of the human genome. The module then tackles the principles of how we can use information from the Human Genome Project to improve our understanding of the genetic causes of human disease and biology. DNA microarrays, proteomics and other methods for analysing gene expression and function at the whole-genome scale provide new ways to explore the causes and treatment of disease. A major goal of Systems Biology is to describe biological networks and processes in the form of quantitative models, and the course covers how progress with model organisms is paving the way for such system wide approaches to human biology.
Module 5 : Evolutionary Genetics
Modern evolutionary theory is based on the union of Mendelian genetics with Darwin’s theory of evolution, and traces its roots back to Ronald Fisher’s seminal work in the Department of Genetics during the 1930s. This module will consider the process of evolution, by looking at studies on genetic variation in populations, together with theoretical examinations of the way that genes behave in populations. The role of natural selection in evolution will be explored, using empirical evidence and theoretical examinations of evolution in action. The course will begin with ecological genetics, looking at adaptive evolution in natural populations. This will be followed by lectures that will examine the role natural selection plays in molecular evolution, and how other processes can interfere with natural selection and limit the rate of adaptation. These topics will lead into a consideration of sex, the evolution of sex, sex ratios and sexual selection. Next there will be lectures on speciation, the evolution of viruses, and on comparative genomics. The remaining lectures will be on the origins and spread of humans, human population structures and adaptive/non-adaptive evolution in humans.