The Genetics Era: Finding Genes for Human Behavior and Disease

Academic year2019-2020                                                               
Day(s)Monday and Wednesday
Number of meetings    
Dates of all meetings30 March, 1, 6, 8, 15, 20, 22, 29 April, 4, 6, 11, 13, 18, 20 May 2020
LocationVrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081HV Amsterdam
RoomW&N building, will be announced later, De Boelelaan 1085 (no 1085 at this map)
Lecturers  (including titles, email addresses and department)
  • Dr. Tinca Polderman, Dept of Complex Trait genetics, VU, [email protected]: expert in psychiatric etiology
  • Dr Sophie van der Sluis, Dept of Clinical genetics, section Complex Trait Genetics, VUmc, [email protected]: expert in phenotypic complexity
  • International guest lecturers

Course Description

This course will consist of ~14 meetings. The first meetings will provide an introduction of the foundations of behaviour genetics research, starting with twin and family studies (e.g., what is heritability), and the basics of the genome and DNA (what are the building blocks of the genome, how is DNA transmitted, and how can DNA be measured). The students will then participate in a 2 session “bitter tasting” lab practical in which they will isolate their own DNA from saliva, and test whether they have the genotype that determines whether or not you can taste bitterness. In subsequent lectures, contemporary methods are discussed that are used to identify the genes that are involved in medical and psychiatric disorders, and other behavioural traits like cognition and height (e.g., linkage, candidate gene studies, genome-wide association analyses). Having identified involved genes, various types of follow-up studies are discussed that are required to learn and understand what these genes do (e.g., model animal studies, iPSCs). The final lectures of the course concern the question whether and how findings from genetic research translate to the (clinical) practice, and can be used in e.g. pre- and postnatal screening. This will also be the topic of the final debate, with which we end the course: in the presence of an expert panel, students will discuss the pro’s and con’s of increasing genetic knowledge and how it should (not) be used in the medical and social context (e.g., insurance, pre- and postnatal screening).  

Working formats and activities
The students will attend lectures, and participate in a lab practical. In addition, students will read key scientific papers on topics related to the lectures. Each session, a few students will give a presentation on that week’s papers, and other students will prepare questions on these papers. The presentations will be evaluated both by the coordinators and by the other students (i.e., peer review). For the final debate, students will be asked to prepare statements either pro or con the use of genetic information in everyday life.

Attainment targets/learning outcomes
  • Solid background in the basics of behavior genetic research: its foundations, aims and methods.
  • Ability to acknowledge both the advances and limitations of current behavior genetics
  • Ability to see how academic knowledge can be translated into society
  • Ability to present the key findings of a scientific paper in a short and ordered manner.

Study materials
Scientific papers, lab practical hand outs 

Assesment methods

  • Written exam with open
  • Multiple choice questions
  • Scientific paper presentation
  • Participation in the final debate