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BIOSCI351

MOLECULAR GENETICS

Course Breakdown

 

Mid-semester test: 26.67%
Laboratory Component: 20%
Exam: 53.33%

Course Information

 

Recommended textbooks:
Introduction to Genetic Analysis - Griffiths, Miller et al.
Human Molecular Genetics - Strachan & Read 
(Note that the course guide provides links to online versions of these, and the library has several copies.)
Recombinant DNA - Watson et al.

Official UoA Website: link.

Basic Information

Following on from BIOSCI 202, BIOSCI 351 is arguably a "lighter" course, as much of the groundwork for the problem-solving aspect of genetics has been laid down in 202 and is fairly familiar - so, if you found 202 difficult, or perhaps did not get the final mark you wished, still give 351 some consideration, as genetics is such a fundamental sub-discipline of biology underpinning many (if not all) areas of biology. BIOSCI 351 comprised of three units in 2015:

(i) Molecular genetics
(ii) Determining the genetic basis of phenotypes
(iii) Human genetics.

There is a test for the first topic, which is not examined in the exam, with the exam itself comprised of the last two topics. The test was short-answer questions and problems, and the exam short-answer questions with an essay (two questions to chose from) for each of the last two topics. In 2015, the three (8am!) lectures a week were recorded, and the four lecturers were all very approachable.

The weighting difference between the exam and test are not even because you are tested on more in the exam. With its many examples and new concepts, this paper can be incredibly confusing as to what you need to learn, especially in the second part of the semester – this is a feeling that can persist long after the final exam is over. 

Unlike many other papers you will encounter in Biomedical Science, it is not content heavy; instead, you will need to have an understanding of how to tackle problems, much like is expected in mathematics. However, you are not expected to solve problems you have never seen before – this would require too much  from us, so instead, we are expected to learn and understand the general processes used in molecular genetics, then be able to explain how they were utilised in particular examples the lecturers pick. If there are entirely new questions, they will likely be straightforward i.e. the lecturers are not trying to play tricks on you. 

​In 2015, the course format was changed – from 2014 and earlier, there were two tests and an exam, with everything tested again in the exam, which consisted only of essays. The new format, as described above, has one test 1 hour test with short answer questions and one long answer question, and one exam with 2 essays and some ‘short answer questions’ which ended up taking around a page and a half each. 

 

Laboratory Component

Overall, not a difficult lab component. There is relatively little we can do in a laboratory in molecular genetics. There are 5 labs – one every two weeks or so.  The first lab was a microbiology lab, in which students produced some recombinant bacterial cultures via phages, with the second lab a dry lab devoted to analysing the results of the first. The third lab was another dry lab, comprising a simple revision of linkage and linkage mapping using a computer simulation (you could probably do most if not all of this lab off of 202 knowledge). That being said, this was still a useful lab for driving home essential principles. In 2015, there was a slight technical hiccup (a website needed to complete the handout essentially shut down just before the lab session) and the lab was pretty busy, so expect slight changes. The last two labs were devoted to (i) preparing a sample for PCR and (ii) analysing the results thereof, with the wet component very simple and the hand-out exercises being the "meat" of the lab. As with BIOSCI 202, worksheets were completed during the labs, with no "homework" to be handed in a week later.

​The work is very straightforward, as are the worksheets. As per usual, ask as many questions to the lab demonstrators as possible – they are a wealth of knowledge and somehow, even in stage III, no question is a stupid question. The laboratory component should boost your grade. 

 

Lecture Content

Molecular Genetics

In 2015 this was taught in 10 lectures by Associate Professor Jo Putteril. This is also all of the content of the in-course test. These lectures were based upon several case studies, focusing upon the various genetic analyses performed in each. Case studies included some of the early work around the various genetic "switches" controlling the life cycle of bacteriophage lamda, mutagenesis studies of cell cycle proteins in yeast, the discovery and mechanism of agrobacterium-mediated mutagenesis, the construction of "libraries" of deletion mutants of model organisms, and the discovery and development of green fluorescent protein - quite a mix, as you can see. Aside from historical and practical interest, I found these case studies quite instructive as to the process of actually "doing science" in this field. The content of these lectures was originally devised by Professor Richard Gardner, who has since retired; in 2015,  as mentioned above Associate Professor Jo Putterill took these lectures using both Prof. Gardner's slides and FAQ documents - so it is conceivable that the content could change somewhat in 2016. As mentioned earlier this first topic is tested in-course, and not examined in the final exam, with the test comprising short-answer questions and problems. If the content does stay the same in 2016, I highly recommend at least browsing the Mark Ptashne textbook, which is very helpful, very well-written, available from the short-loan library and very short.

​This is rather straightforward and closer to other BIOSCI content than the rest of the course. If there are any trick questions going to be thrown at you, this is the section they will appear in, and even then, you will be able to spot them from a mile off. There are sample questions MCQs and short answer questions in the course guide, and they are great practice for this test.

 

Determining the Genetic Basis of Phenotypes

In 2015 this was taught in 9 lectures by Dr. Anna Santure, who also taught a large section in BIOSCI 202. Her lecturing style for this course is much the same as before but may leave you more confounded than the previous year she taught you as the content she teaches is much more different. 

This part of the course was very well taught and highly enjoyable, focusing chiefly on the use of linkage mapping and genome wide association studies (GWAS) in examining the underlying genetics of variations within populations. As with Assoc. Prof Putterill's section, Dr. Santure presented a series of case studies using these techniques, with her examples being very interesting including variations in horn morphology in the wild Soay sheep of St. Kilda, variations in coat colour among deer mice in the US, and the size variation among different breeds of dogs. Dr. Santure's last lectures were on the interesting phenomenon of genomic imprinting, and the question of whether humans are still evolving. Take your time in understanding the theory so that you can easily pick out key messages in the examples she gives you.

​In the exam, her section in 2015 comprised several short answer questions and a choice of essays. If you picked a couple of case studies to thoroughly read up on using the relevant journal articles that she posts to cecil and used the slides and your lecture notes for the rest, you should do well in her questions.

 

Human Genetics

This part is taken by Professor Russell Snell and Dr. Jessie Jacobsen, with the majority of this section's lectures taught by Prof. Snell. Again, first the tools of the trade are taught, such as methods of genome sequencing and genetic analysis, and then examples are explored – in this section they are all human examples such as acute myeloid leukaemia, autism, and Huntington’s disease.  His lectures feel a little more "free-form" than the others, and are designed to give you the ability to formulate a strategy for identifying the genetic causes of a human disease, taking into account pedigrees and modes of transmission, cytogenetics, linkage and genome wide association studies etc. Typically the exam essay question might give you a couple features of a disease, for which you are to devise and argue for a series of tests to get at the genes involved. He emphasised in his lectures a checklist of things to look at when hunting disease genes, and if you are familiar with this your essay should go well. While I can't guarantee this will be the case in your year, previous years' essay questions have been predictable enough for you to pre-prepare an essay for the exam - which is an advisable thing to do even if in your year the question does switch up a bit. A further piece of advice would be to be familiar with how every disease Prof. Snell mentions relates to this checklist, as this could be a source of the short-answer questions. His lecture series featured two guest lecturers in 2015, with Richard Spellman lecturing on an interesting agricultural example of "disease gene-hunting" in the NZ dairy industry, and Dr. Klaus Lehnert lecturing on various bioinformatic gene-analysis techniques.

​Dr. Jessie Jacobsen's three lectures in 2015 were (i) a review of chromosomal rearrangements and a brief discussion on some more recent research into newly discovered kinds of chromosomal rearrangements like chromothripsis, (ii) the genetics of autism spectrum disorder, and (iii) the sheep model being developed by SBS of Huntington's disease. The non-revision components of these lectures was quite interesting. Her lectures was tested along with Prof. Snell's in the final exam, comprising one topic altogether.