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Department of Genetics


Part II Genetics consists of 4 modules, which everyone studies. We want our 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 ~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 : Genomes, Chromosomes & the Cell Cycle

Module 1 ID

This module will first explore how eukaryotic genomes are organised. We will examine histone modifications, nucleosome structure and organisation of the chromatin fibre. Topics discussed will include the novel paradigm of compartmentalisation via liquid-liquid phase separation, which allows intranuclear organisation in the absence of a membrane. We will then compare eukaryotic chromosomes in interphase and during M phase, consider mechanisms for compaction in mitosis and examine two key functional elements: the centromere and telomere. We will explore the control mechanisms that promote correct cell cycle progression and the accurate segregation of genes and chromosomes into daughter cells at cell division, centred on key cell cycle protein kinases, phosphatases and checkpoints. Then we will examine how DNA viruses exploit eukaryotic chromosomes and circumvent the cell cycle.  Finally, we will consider prokaryotes and the importance of their mobile genetic elements in spreading antibiotic resistance in bacteria.


Module 2 : Early Development & Patterning: Genetic & Cellular Mechanisms
Module 3 ID

This module will cover how the early embryo develops from a fertilized egg to form the body plan. It will focus on our understanding of how gene regulatory and signalling interactions drive cell fate decision making within cells and combine this with our understand of how dynamic cell behaviours drive the shaping of tissues through morphogenesis. You will therefore learn about the key principles of embryonic development, taking examples from a range of early developmental events such as cell fate determination, germline development, gastrulation, segmentation, and somitogenesis in both invertebrate and vertebrate systems. During the course of the module you will be introduced to a range of modern techniques applicable to the study of development including molecular, genetic and imaging technologies. The module will compare mechanisms across a broad range of experimental organisms and processes, in order to highlight the essential principles of developmental biology.


Module 3 : Human Genetics, Genomics and Systems Biology

Module 4 ID

Human genetics, the genetic basis of human disease and the role of genomics in tackling it are the focus of this module. Humans are a problem for the geneticist because, for all sorts of good reasons, we don’t do experiments on ourselves. Human genetics has always needed to exploit technology to obtain answers to the problems it poses. The sequencing technologies that underpin our ability to analyse genomes will be examined, followed by the organisation of the human genome, the role of repetitive DNA, and of epigenetics (including genomic imprinting). We will explore how we assemble genome sequence and measure sequence variation and introduce rare disease genetics. We will then move onto genetic approaches aimed at characterising common diseases, including genome-wide association studies (GWAS). We will introduce the genomics approaches that underpin functional analysis of genomes, including technologies for measuring gene expression, analysing transcription factor activity and chromatin states, and introduce modern proteomics. Finally, the module will review the application of gene therapy approaches to deal with human disease.


Module 4 : Evolutionary Genetics & Adaptation
Module 5 ID

Modern evolutionary theory has its roots in the union of Mendelian genetics with Darwin’s theory of evolution, two of the great unifying themes of biology. This course will consider the process of evolution from a genetic perspective, exploring the central topics of natural selection, adaptation and genetic drift, and combining a variety of empirical and theoretical approaches. Alongside this, the course will explore how genomes themselves are shaped by selection, drift and their evolutionary history. The first half of the module will explore the genetic basis of adaptation.  Do we expect evolutionary change to involve few or many genes, and how might we go about identifying the genes underlying a particular trait?  What kinds of genes control evolutionary changes in morphological traits? We look at the genes underlying convergent evolution as a way of understanding the predictability of evolutionary change. Genomic data contain a wealth of information about the history of populations and natural selection, and population genetics provides a framework to reconstruct these processes. The final lectures in this section will show how mathematical models of population genetics can be used to describe and reconstruct the action of natural selection, genetic drift and mutation. The second half of the module will look at the evolution of genomes and conflict within genomes. We will begin by considering one of the conundrums of evolutionary biology—why most species reproduce sexually—from a theoretical and empirical perspective. Sexual reproduction leads to conflicts between genes within the genomes, and we will explore its consequences for genome evolution. We will then examine the evolution of key features of genomes—sex chromosomes, introns, repetitive DNA and gene expression. Finally, we will consider the evolution of quantitative traits that are controlled by many genes, and what constrains the evolution of these traits.

Page updated 01/02/2023