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Sorry, Mendel

Traditionally, undergraduate-level genetics courses begin with Mendel and his peas, and then move on to other concepts in roughly the same order in which they were discovered. But such an approach is increasingly considered outdated.

In a PLoS Biology opinion piece, the University of British Columbia's Rosie Redfield recounts her department's revamping of the conventional intro genetics course. Rather than following the historical approach, the new UBC course instead starts with coursework on gene function and inheritance before getting to genetic analysis. However, Redfield says, these changes aren't enough. "Our goal in designing the course had been to make students competent in the standard principles of transmission genetics, but we had totally failed to consider whether this is really what our students need to know," she writes in PLoS Biology.

Redfield suggests a very different approach: crafting a syllabus that begins with personal genomics followed by teachings on the structures and functions of genes and chromosomes, and later followed by historical genetic analyses — including those by Mendel. "As a first step, geneticists need to step back from the current curriculum and decide what 21st century students really need to know about genes and inheritance," she writes. "These decisions should be based on how students will use what they learn, and not on what we as geneticists value. Then we can develop specific learning goals."

HT: The Beast, the Bard and the Bot

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