The Gene: History of an Idea

Winter 2023
Sophomore - Senior
Class Size: 25
16 Credits per quarter
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What is a gene? How does a gene work? Where does a gene come from? Why might we consider a gene an idea?

In this program, we examine the history of the gene, a term that has accumulated multiple meanings over time—an abstract particle of inheritance, a unit of DNA sequence encoding a protein, a script for synthesizing imagined new activities. The current model incorporates metaphors of texts and codes, in which gene action invokes analogies of reading and deciphering. In the first half of the quarter, we will introduce elements of classical genetics, including chromosome behavior, Mendel's principles of segregation and independent assortment, and genetic linkage. In the second half, we will study the molecular mechanisms underlying gene function, including DNA structure and replication, transcription, translation, gene regulation, and genome editing. We will carry out experiments illustrating these concepts in the laboratory. In addition to a rigorous scientific curriculum, we will be reading philosophy, history of science, and fiction to give us insights into the development of the idea of the gene, and to help us grapple with some of the ethical and political issues arising from the application of genetic technology and information. We anticipate reading such authors as Siddhartha Mukherjee, Evelyn Fox Keller, Michael Sandel, and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Program activities will include lectures, workshops, labs, and seminar. Student learning will be assessed by a program portfolio, exams, writing assignments, and a lab notebook. Credits may be awarded in introductory genetics and molecular biology, and history and philosophy of science.


Winter 2023 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

Sr (16): 20010
Jr (16): 20011
So (16): 20012

Academic details

Preparatory For

biology, medicine

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing


In Person or Remote
In Person
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 D3105 - Workshop