How badly can your DNA mess you up? A biomedicine course review

Here I am, with a long overdue course review for Genetics, Genomics, and Functional Genomics. This is the second last course of the 2nd semester of the Bachelor’s in Biomedicine.

In this blog I’ll be talking about the different parts of the course and what I liked and learned in each of them, as well as tips, opinions on the course literature and the exam structure. Hope you find this useful!

Modules and contents

The course was split up into four separate modeules, each with a different focus:

  • Module A: Molecular biological techniques
  • Module B: Bioinformatics
  • Module C: Medical Genetics
  • Module D: Project Work

Module A: Molecular biological techniques

My thoughts: I liked that the people who held lectures about these things were often actively using these techniques in a research setting and could elaborate and give a “behind-the-scenes” perspective. The content of this module was really cool, and I liked that it introduced the realm of possibilities of what you could study.

“What does corn have to do with molecular biological techniques?” you ask. It’s surprisingly relevant actually. I’ll give you a hint: The 1983 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Photo by WikiImages on Pixabay

What we did: This module was–as the name suggests–heavily focussed on various techniques. For example, we learned how to use enzymes for DNA maipulation, sequence DNA, discern how DNA interacted with various biological molecules, epigenetic data, protein analysis, transgene and knockout technology, and much more.

Tips: Although I would have liked to have an opportunity to try these techniques incorporated into the course, it’s probably difficult administratively– so if you have an opportunity to intern or work with any lecturers or researchers then I’d say you take it!

Module B: Bioinformatics

My thoughts: The bioinformatics module was very exploration based. It really focussed on building a toolbox that you could use in the future rather than giving you concrete knowledge, and I liked that about it.

What we did: It involved looking at various databases, learning how to work with gene and DNA sequences, find relevant scientific papers and information, etc. We did computer labs where we were given tasks that involved digging out information and navigating various online softwares and databases like PubMed, BLAST, etc.

Tips: Bookmark the different websites and databases that you learn about, since they will show up over and over again. Focus on getting familiar with the different platforms, and you’ll learn the content automatically!

My photo gallery looked like this throughout the bioinformatics module. Image Credits: Inika Prasad

Module C: Medical Genetics

My thoughts: This module was my personal favourite. It offered a clinical perspective and gave real life applications of the topics it covered. Plus, I really enjoyed the detail and piecing together the puzzle pieces of how to diagnose and deal with cases as well.

Medical genetics is like puzzle building. Photo by Arek Socha on Pixabay

What we did: We discussed numerous ways in which your DNA and chromosomes could affect people. We covered…

  • genetic diseases
  • predispositions to cancer
  • pre-natal testing
  • diagnosis and treatment strategies of various syndromes
  • different things that could lead to problems in DNA
  • etc.

We also discussed various ethical laws, questions, and guidelines that came into play when one deals with sensitive information.

Highlight your heart out. These aren’t even half the notes I had for this course. Photo by Inika Prasad

Tips: This module often gave a lot (A LOT) of background information about the clinical presentation and symptoms of various medical syndromes/diseases, which (as you’ll be told early on) will not be tested. So don’t lose sight of the underlying molecular mechanisms that are really the core parts of the module. The extra information is to build your general knowledge and establish familiarity. I’d advise using highlighters or a separate note sheet where you summarize the core points.

Module D: Project Work

My thoughts: In this module we taught each other and taught ourselves: it provided surprising amounts of insight into how to present, work together, and learn independently. While the presentations are interesting, I find that one has to really focus on being attentive as so many people talk.

What we did: The project work module focussed on different molecular biological techniques. We were split up into groups of 5-6 and paired up with a researcher who would act as a guide, source of information, and a mentor. The topics had been covered briefly in Module A, and this module was meant to give us a more in-depth understanding of…

  • framework of the technique
  • its uses
  • the method/procedure itself
  • strengths and weaknesses
  • examples of use in research
Our final product! I think my team did a great job, and this was a lot of fun 🙂 Credits: Methylation Array Group Members

How was the teaching?

Alongside lectures, we had labs and project work:

  • Molecular cloning lab: (carried out on Labster in 2020)
  • Bioinformatics labs (done in pairs)

Since we were learning at a distance due to Covid-19 measures, these labs and project works were altered to fit. If you want to know more about how it worked, you can read my blog How has the biomedicine programme changed?

How was the course literature?

Human Molecular Genetics by Tom Strachan and Andrew P. Read. Photographed by Inika Prasad but the art is not mine.

Human Molecular Genetics: This book was really good at explaining concepts in depth, something that was very valuable when it came to understanding the different techniques and procedures we were learning. I would definitely recommend keeping up with the reading. However, the lectures themselves were quite in depth and elaborate, so for me, this book played the role of a supplement.

Introduction to Bioinformatics by Arthur Lesk. Image from Amazon.

An Introduction to Bioinformatics: This book was for the bioinformatics module. However, a large part of the module was focused on practical work, such as actually using various databases and websites, so I found the book to be of limited use. However, it did cover some aspects more in depth, and was useful when the lecture slides were not too elaborate.

The Exam

I had the pleasure of having an open book test online, which will most likely not be the case for the new first years. So I’m going to give a breakdown of what it was like instead:

Disclaimer: this may not reflect the upcoming test structures!!

The exam was split into 3 parts:

  1. Multiple choice questions
  2. Short answer questions
  3. Long answer questions

The questions were of a variety of types, and went through both straightforward questions (eg. “Describe X”, or “What is meant by Y?”), as well as more procedure based questions (eg. “Here is a situation X, what would you do in order to find Y?”). I found both types to be pertinent and well thought out.

Final Thoughts

I found this course to be quite enjoyable and very thorough in providing not only the bare minimum to fulfill learning requirements but also in giving background information and research potential. It both built a toolbox of skills and gave a lot of pure content-based knowledge that was super interesting. And lastly, given the circumstances of a sudden switch to distance learning, it was adapted quite decently to fit.

I hope this blog helped give you an overview of the course! You can always email me with questions at inika.prasad@stud.ki.se

Cheers,

Inika ❤

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