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2008/09 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HPSC2821 Genetics, Eugenics and Society

20 creditsClass Size: 35

In light of the effect of COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions on students' learning experiences, the School of PRHS have made the decision to modify assessment in Semester 2 modules in the 2020-21 academic year. Changes may involve reducing the number of assessment points (e.g. assessing one essay rather than two) or reducing word counts where it is possible to do so whilst protecting the integrity of the module's Learning Outcomes. Information on any changes to assessment is available to enrolled students in the Minerva module area, and can also be sought from the module leader or the PRHS SES team.

Module manager: Anne Jamieson

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2008/09

Pre-requisite qualifications

A Level Biology or any two level 1 modules in Biochemistry or Genetics (recommended, but not strictly required; module leader has discretion)

This module is mutually exclusive with

HPSC2820History of Genetics
HPSC3820History of Genetics (Medical)

This module is approved as an Elective

Module summary

Ours is the age of DNA. From GM crops to superbabies, from hopes for new gene therapies to fears over a revived eugenics, the science of genetics is playing an ever more central role in our lives and in our world. But how did we come to understand what we do about genes? What is the relationship between genetics (the science of heredity) and eugenics (the better breeding of humans through science)? How did genetics escape the textbooks and the laboratories to transform how we eat, how we reproduce, how we catch criminals, and so much more?In this module we will seek answers to these questions in history. Throughout we will be paying attention to changing ideas about heredity and its study but also to the people behind the ideas such as Gregor Mendel, the nineteenth-century monk whose experiments with peas provided, well after his death, the basis for genetics. Giving due attention to the scientific side of the story, we will also be considering the wider social, political and economic contexts, going right up to the present era of "genomics" and gene patenting. Towards the end of the module, we will consider whether the current situation amounts to a new eugenics.


The science of genetics promises to transform our lives in the coming decades. In this module students will learn how the theories and techniques of this powerful science have developed, from the age of Gregor Mendel and Francis Galton down to our own day. They will also explore some of the social and moral issues surrounding the new genetic technologies.

The module is organized around three revolutions in the scientific study of heredity:

The Mendelian Revolution. The early concept of the gene was based on experiments conducted in the mid-1860s by Gregor Mendel, a monk in the provinces of Central Europe. Why did Mendel conduct his experiments? Why did his work become famous only around 1900? We shall be answering these questions as well as discussing the impact of genetics on theories of evolution and schemes for the "eugenic" improvement of humans.

The Molecular Revolution. In 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson announced that the molecular basis of heredity was the double-helix structure of DNA. We will look at the scientific and social background that led to their work, and at the subsequent development of the techniques used in "genetic engineering".

The Genomics Revolution. Some say that the Human Genome Project has stimulated a new revolution, a "genomics" revolution, with major consequences for human health and welfare. Others are more sceptical. We will examine the issues, looking in particular at the patenting of human genes and the rise of a new eugenics.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, you will be able to:

a. describe the origins and impact of the Mendelian revolution, the molecular revolution, the genomics revolution and eugenics;
b. analyse these developments in the context of the changing relationship betweeen science and society;
c. engage sympathetically with beliefs about heredity now unfamiliar or derided; and
d. evaluate claims about the nature of genetics and eugenics in light of their histories.


1. Mendel, Galton and the C19 science of heredity
2. The rediscovery of Mendel's laws
3. Genes, chromosomes and fruitflies
4. Eugenics
5. The biochemistry of heredity
6. Watson, Crick and the DNA Double Helix
7. The emergence of molecular genetics
8. Post-eugenics
9. The rise of genomics
10. Commercializing the genome
11. Lamarckian themes and variations

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours184.00
Total Contact hours16.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Private study will include: general reading; tutorial preparation; and essay writing.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

The mid-semester essay will serve as an opportunity to monitor student progress.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2,000 words50.00
Essay2,000 words50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

There is no reading list for this module

Last updated: 08/06/2009


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