BIOL 553: Genomics

Genomics is a rapidly expanding field, and is a driving force behind many recent advances in biology. It emerges from attempts to simultaneously consider information drawn from throughout an organisms entire genome. The course allows students to examine genomics in the context of fundamental questions in biology and applications to practical problems. We learn genomic techniques in sufficient detail that students can evaluate scientific literature critically, to analyze scientific results portrayed in the popular media, and to discuss societal issues associated with genome science. Success in the course depends on self-directed activities and a willingness to learn from classmates.

The goals of this course are not simply that students become more knowledgeable about genomics. It is a small class intended to foster students' ability to communicate complex scientific ideas. In fact, developing communication skills is a more important goal in this course than gaining any specific knowledge of genomics. We emphasize making presentations, and students work on improving the structure and delivery of presentations given by students. That is, rather than simply using presentations as a graded event, we work to learn principles of effective communication through a series of increasingly sophisticated presentations. In addition, several written assignments provide a platform to sharpen written communication skills. Grades are determined primarily by presentations, written papers, and engaged class participation. The nature of the class requires students to have a substantial foundation in biology, and therefore both BIOL 303: Genetics and BIOL 301: Ecology and Evolution are pre-requisites for the course. Normally, I teach Genomics in the Spring semester.

The topics we cover are largely decided by students in the course. Because nearly all areas of biology have been transformed by genomics in the past decade, we couldn't come close to addressing all of them. In some cases, a cluster of presentations are built around topical themes, such as medicine, infectious diseases, animal behavior, agriculture, and human evolution. Other times, students are entirely free to pick any topic that has been investigated at a genome scale.

Many excellent researchers at USC use genomic approaches in their research programs. We have been fortunate enough to have guest presentations by several of them, and I hope to continue this each time the course is offered. These presenters have included:

  • Matt Greenwold, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Beta-keratins and the evolution of feathers.
  • Erin Connolly, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Global nutrition and the problem of iron uptake in plants.
  • Igor Roninson, S.C. College of Pharmacy, Novel approaches to treating cancer.
  • Geoff Morris, Kansas State University, Improving drought tolerance in sorghum, an African staple crop.
  • Jeremy Stuart, VP for Genomic Services, Selah Genomics, Genomics and biotechnology in medicine.
  • Sean Place, Sonoma State University, Responses of marine invertebrates to climate change.
  • Michael Shtutman, SC College of Pharmacy, MicroRNAs in Cancer.
  • Successful students will be able to:

  • 1) identify biological questions that could be informed by genomic information
  • 2) construct and deliver informative presentations on current topics in genomics
  • 3) understand the application of genomics to questions in diverse areas of biology
  • 4) understand ongoing developments in biology through self-study
  • 5) judge the effectiveness of genomic tests of biological hypotheses
  • 6) assess the consequences of genomic information for society
  • Actual Comments from Prior Students

    "I really enjoyed the presentations. Gained a ton of public speaking confidence."

    "Dr. Dudycha teaches the class in a ver different style. It is very presentation and discussion based, which I think works very well for this subject matter and a course of this level."

    "Clearly understands genomics on a very deep level, and yet is able to make it accessible to students (a rare combination of qualities). Overall, I'd say a great professor."

    "Professor Dudycha is an excellent professor. I took his ecology and evolution course and really enjoyed his teaching style, hence why I took his genomics course. He is very open for discussions, and took a different approach to teaching this class that has been very beneficial to myself. It was nice to have multiple guest speakers (to give me an idea of what kind of careers are out there) and actually gain experience myself giving presentations."

    "One semester simply wasn't enough to cover everything. I actually wished there was more lecture time, which is rare. Perhaps the current topic presentations could have been eliminated to facilitate this, although I found those helpful as well."

    "Enjoyable guest speakers and student presentations. Perhaps a bit more vocabulary given at the beginning would be helpful. Overall, excellent course though."

    "I felt my public speaking skills improved greatly, but we didn't discuss many things in great detail. I felt my general knowledge increased but I didn't get much specific information.

    "Dr. Dudycha was a cheerful and quirky ginger."

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