Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

The Living Genome: Implications for Biology and Beyond

High school biology

For health or personal reasons, it is becoming more commonplace (and affordable) to have one’s genome sequenced. More accurately, we are each a tapestry of many genomes: germline, somatic (sometimes including cancer), and even microbial genomes. To what extent can a string of 6 billion letters (base pairs) predict our future risk for disease or guide precision medicine? How can it enlighten our understanding of ancestry and evolution, from national origins to being part Neanderthal? How can it solve cold criminal cases or upend paternity? To what extent is the coded information pliable to the external environment? And how might recent technologies (e.g., CRISPR) be used to edit our genomes? And for all the above, what are the privacy, ethical, and societal concerns?

In this course, we will cover material from scientific literature as well as popular readings and films. You will learn about genomes, genome science and technology. You will learn to critically evaluate scientific findings and claims, and to understand limitations. The broad goal is to become informed and engaged about genome science and its implications for both the individual and society.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Jonathan Pollack

"I studied biological anthropology at Harvard, followed by medicine (MD), biochemistry (PhD), and clinical pathology at UCSF. For the past 20 years, I have directed a research lab here at Stanford. My research focuses on translational genomics, where we study genomes to better understand, diagnose and treat human disease, with an emphasis on cancer. I have witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of the Human Genome Project on science and medicine. In addition to research, I enjoy teaching in the classroom and mentoring students in the lab. My scholarly interests span genome science, genome medicine, comparative and evolutionary biology. In my free time, I also enjoy playing tennis and traveling."