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Course Summary

This course is a journey into the biology of the human genome and will highlight the scientific, social, and personal perspectives of people living with a variety of traits.

Why Take This Course?

You will learn about fundamental principles of inheritance, gene expression, mutation and variation, development of simple and complex biological traits, human ancestry and evolution, and the acquisition of personal genetic information. By the end of this course, you will be able to read and understand genetic information available from personal genetics services such as 23andMe.

Prerequisites and Requirements

No previous experience in genetics is necessary. However, familiarity with basic biological concepts, like the cell, is beneficial.

See the Technology Requirements for using Udacity.


Lesson 1: Introduction to traits and heredity

Trait variation and categorization, basic models of inheritance, and the connection via DNA. Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Lesson 2: Defining the genome

DNA structure, chromosomes, and genome organization. Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Lesson 3: How a genome works

Protein coding genes, transcription, translation, discerning the genetic code, and alleles. Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Lesson 4: Gene regulation

Non-coding DNA, regulatory regions of genes, and transcription factors. Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Lesson 5: Transmission of genes and traits

Family relationships and pedigrees, inheritance patterns, allele dominance, and chromosome dynamics. Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Lesson 6: Origin of mutation/variation

Types of mutations, various causes of mutation, allelic frequency, and the spread of alleles in a population. Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Lesson 7: How to obtain and interpret personal genetic information

Personalized genetics: sample acquisition, DNA extraction and processing, and interpretation of results. Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Lesson 8: Simple genetic traits

Molecular causes of monogenic traits, loss-of-function vs. gain-of-function alleles, and dominance. Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Lesson 9: Multifactorial traits

Polygenic traits, complex traits with an environmental effect, qualitative and quantitative measures, twin studies, relative risk, and genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Lesson 10: Pharmacogenetics: genes and drugs

Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, alleles affecting drug metabolism, and personalized medicine. Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Lesson 11: Human ancestry and evolution

Identity by state (IBS), Identity by descent (IBD), relative finder, maternal and paternal lineages, neanderthal interbreeding, and human/chimp evolution. Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Lesson 12: The immortal genome (putting genetics to work)

Personal decisions, legal questions, professional options, and the future of genetics. Check out the concept map for this lesson.

Bonus Lesson: Discovering DNA in your Kitchen

Using only normal household items, even YOU can extract DNA and see it live and in person. At the end of this lesson you'll have the best new party trick EVER. (just remember to bring strawberries) Here is the protocol/procedure to make it happen.

Instructors & Partners

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Lauren Castellano


Lauren Castellano earned her MA in Experimental Psychology from San Jose State University and her BA in Psychology from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. She has been a teaching assistant for three years. She is passionate about teaching psychology because she believes it applies to everything we do and anyone can benefit from learning about psychology. Lauren is also passionate about traveling and scuba diving; she is a certified rescue diver and a dive master candidate.

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Matthew Cook


Originally from North Carolina, Matt is a science lover and strong supporter of scientific skepticism. He plays the piano, studies philosophy, and is still waiting for a virtual reality version of the Legend of Zelda. Matt has been involved extensively in biomedical research and teaching at all levels, from elementary to college. After receiving an International Baccalaureate diploma in high school, Matt studied biology and Hispanic studies at East Carolina University. He then earned his PhD in cell and molecular biology from Duke University before accepting a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California San Francisco.

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Uta Francke


Originally from Germany, Uta Francke received her MD from the University of Munich and then specialized in medical genetics, diagnosing and treating people with genetic disorders. She has carried out laboratory research in both humans and mice, and she has taught clinical and molecular genetics at UCSD, Yale and Stanford University. She currently is Senior Medical Director at 23andMe, a personal genetics company.

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23andMe Team


The scientists at 23andMe are experts in population, medical and computational genetics, biomedical informatics, reproductive biology, personalized medicine, and pharmacology. They share a passion for helping people understand their genetic information and gain deeper insights into their health, ancestry, and traits. On any given day, they can be found furthering genetic research, making scientific discoveries relevant to individuals, and promoting genomic medicine.

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Joanna Mountain


Joanna Mountain is a human geneticist who studies the connections between genetics and a broad range of diseases, the prehistory underlying human genetic diversity, and the nature of the relationship between genetic diversity and categories of race and ethnicity. Joanna earned her PhD in Genetics from Stanford University. Currently she is Senior Director of Research at 23andMe, a personal genetics company.

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