What you will study
Our characters, including our appearance, depend on the functions of genes. Genes also contribute to a person’s behaviour and health, including susceptibility to certain diseases, such as heart disease. The course examines: the patterns of inheritance of genes, including those associated with genetic diseases; the sequence and content of the human genome; how genes function; how the physical and biochemical characteristics of the body are produced; and why there are differences between individuals and between populations. Finally, it explores some of the issues surrounding research into genes, from biological, medical and ethical points of view: for example, how knowledge of our genes has the potential to revolutionise our ability to change the genetic fates of individuals. The course will equip you with sufficient background to understand these issues and to engage with discussions presented in newspapers and popular scientific journals. As well as some of the biology of genes, you will learn biology that you can apply to other situations. You will also engage with key issues of concern to health professionals.
If you are a beginner in biology, you will find that the course introduces new ideas, concepts and scientific and study skills as they are needed, and you will progressively develop these skills and your understanding through structured questions and activities. If you have already done some biology at school, college or elsewhere, you will find that the course extends your knowledge about our genes and the biological, medical and ethical issues behind research on genes.
By the end of this course you should be able to:
Demonstrate general knowledge and understanding of some of the basic facts, concepts and principles relating to human genetics, including the relevant health issues and human biology. In particular:
- the patterns of inheritance of genes and characters
- how the interactions between genes and environment affect characters
- the structure and function of genes: DNA to RNA to protein
- the relationships between gene structure, gene function and characters
- the process of genetic change, and the factors that cause cancer
- the sequence and content of the human genome
- the factors that influence the distribution of gene variants around the world
- the medical, social and ethical issues arising from knowledge of our genes.
The course features the distinctive strengths of The Open University (OU) from its years of expertise in distance learning:
- The convenience of accessing its clearly presented and sequenced materials, activities and support whenever suits you and wherever you have access to the protected course website – if you prefer, you can print key materials to work on them offline.
- The support of an expert learning adviser who can clarify study materials, answer questions and help you relate the course to your specific needs.
- An online interactive quiz that you can attempt as many times as you wish to help you test your own learning.
- A statement of participation from the OU which you can use to demonstrate your engagement with the course. (N.B. The course does not carry academic credit points.)
Some of the pages within the course contain links to external sites. Accessing these sites is part of the allocated study time for the course. You may also wish to undertake additional background study or reading if some of the concepts introduced are completely unfamiliar to you.
Expert, confidential learner support is available when you need it from a learning adviser, who will respond to you directly. Other support is available via the course forum, dedicated website and computing helpdesk.
This course will require around 100 hours to complete.