About this course
This course explains one of the key molecules in life: Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). DNA stores the genetic information in all living cells. The sequence of its building blocks defines both individual identity and species diversity. Changes in DNA can lead to cancer and other diseases. DNA-based technology is now used to detect and treat diseases.
In this course, we will take you on a journey from the DNA molecule to the development of novel therapies. We will first look at some historical aspects and key experiments such as how DNA was identified and proven to be the keeper of genetic information. We will then describe how DNA becomes duplicated (when cells divide) and how the genetic information stored on DNA is organized into genes. Next, we will explain how genes become transcribed into a messenger molecule (mRNA) and eventually translated into proteins that carry out the actual cellular functions. With this basic knowledge, we will then look at simple DNA-based techniques and how they are employed not just in basic research but also in everyday life: for the analysis of food, in crime scene investigations and forensics, for the diagnosis of genetic diseases, and for therapy development in modern molecular medicine. When students have completed the course, they will know a lot about structure, function, and uses of DNA, and they will understand the DNA-related words that are often used in the news (for example "gene", "mutation", "DNA fingerprint").
The course will be organized into 14 units of approx. 15 min each. The units will follow a common scheme with a short introductory sequence that discusses the importance of the topic covered. The main part of the lecture will have molecular models, power point animations, live drawings, and short lecture video sequences. At the end of each unit, we will provide a question catalogue and links to supporting material. Immediate self testing will be possible through multiple choice questions and interactive tasks. As homework, students will work on "open questions" in student-centered discussion groups. Open questions are based on but not restricted to the material covered in the course, and students will be encouraged to do their own reading to answer them.
The fourteen units comprise the following topics:
1. How DNA is present in everyday life (DNA History I)
2. DNA History II
3. The structure and properties of DNA – DNA fingerprint
4. Replication – the copying of DNA
5. From DNA to Protein I - Transcription of Genes
6. From DNA to Protein II - RNA processing
7. From DNA to Protein III – translating the genetic code
8. Methods I – making Genes visible
9. Methods II – amplifying Genes
10. Introduction to Genetic Diseases - Cancer
11. Consequences of Mutations
12. How to repair mutations?
13. Muscular Dystrophies - when muscles die
14. Stem Cell Therapies – replacing defective cells
Participants will be able to answer the following questions after completing the course:
1. Why and how has DNA become one of the most powerful tools in research?
2. What exactly does gene therapy mean?
3. Why is it so hard to find a cure for cancer?
4. For which diseases may DNA-based technology help developing a therapy?
5. What are potentials and risks in gene-based medicine?
Participants that possess an interest in modern biomedical research will be able to grasp the key concepts without strong background knowledge. In order to pass the final exam, though, high school level knowledge in chemistry and biology will be advantageous when we draw chemical structures or address cell biological questions.
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