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Evolution and Genetics


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor: Professor Neil McDonald
  • Assessment: two short-answer tests (10% each), a group presentation (20%) and an end-of-module test (60%)

Module description

In this module you will develop your understanding of modern molecular genetics, with respect both to theory and practice, and with an emphasis on examination of genetic contributions to human diseases. The content will logically follow from foundations set in Year 1 with respect to underpinning theory (central dogma [DNA to RNA to protein] and cell division [generation of gametes via meiosis]). Additionally, a laboratory sequence, building again on foundations set in Year 1, will introduce you to key molecular biology methods and bioinformatic explorations, as applied in determining genotypes at selected genetic loci.

Throughout, factors contributing to genetic variation will be brought to light, and you will learn to explain how such variation serves as the substrate for evolution by natural selection.

Indicative syllabus

  • The chromosomal basis of inheritance and how inheritance patterns may be analysed
  • The complex relationship between genotype and phenotype
  • Key molecular biology techniques used in genetic analysis and their various applications
  • The use of online gene and protein databases in genetic analyses
  • Ethical considerations relating to the applications of genetics in medicine

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • discuss alternative definitions of the term 'gene' and explain generally the route from gene to trait
  • identify and analyse Mendelian pedigree patterns, fluently employing appropriate terminology, e.g. genes, alleles; dominant vs. recessive vs. co-dominant; homozygous vs. heterozygous
  • distinguish between classically Mendelian characters and those that are complex and/or multifactorial
  • discuss the complex and often uncertain relationship between genotype and phenotype through examination of selected human genetic diseases
  • identify the key determinants of genetic variation at the molecular level and explain how the consequent phenotypic variation serves as the substrate for evolution by natural selection
  • quantitatively analyse relationships between allele frequencies and genotype frequencies in populations (e.g. via critical application of the Hardy-Weinberg formula) and explain the implications of such analyses
  • explain the principles underlying key molecular biology techniques commonly used in molecular genetic analysis and apply a selection of these in making genotype determinations
  • articulate an appreciation of the ethical issues in medical genetics and be able to put forward arguments based both on science and your own ethical viewpoint.