College Of Arts And Sciences | Where do I come From?
L112 | 0221 | Bonner
Lecture: 10:10A-11:00A, MWF, JH 239.
As long as there has been history, and probably before we wrote
anything down, we have wondered where we came from, and how we got here.
It may be part of self-awareness itself to ask such questions. Although it
is quite easy to ask where we come from, it is not so easy to answer. Of
necessity, those answers we give are based on our own understanding of the
If we did not know about the human egg, and about the role of
fertilization in starting an egg to grow, how could we explain the
beginnings of human life? How does it start, and what controls the growth
of the embryo to form it into a human rather than a lobster?
If we did not know about genes and DNA, about the nature of heredity, how
could we explain the fact that we look more like our parents, and less like
the guy across the street? Is there some kind of vital force that emanates
from our parents, and makes us look like them? Where do other kinds of
characteristics come from-like color-blindness, baldness, or a particularly
distinctive way of walking? Some of the early ideas about the nature of
inheritance are quite creative.
The nature of inheritance makes us think profoundly about our own
histories. We can begin to see how we have come by the characteristics
that we have, that our parents had, or our grandparents. How far back does
it go? And what about that new trait that showed up recently that had
never been in our family before? Genetics is old, and changes happen. We
can see the history of our ancestors, in a way, if we look at the sequence
of our own DNA. It is, of course, similar to the DNA of our relatives.
With our close relatives, many of the genes are the same. For more distant
relatives, there are some differences between genes, but the sequences are
still very similar. In fact, the sequences tell us that we are relatives
of every other living thing on the planet-at least, those that we know
In this course, we will examine ourselves, and where we come from.
We will look at our embryological origins, and try to understand how we
came to be, based on what is known now about developmental biology. It
will be interesting to compare these thoughts to those of earlier
scientists or philosophers who, though they knew a great deal, simply did
not have some key pieces of information at their disposal.
Similarly, we will examine our own genetic heritage, looking at the
nature of inheritance from the level of pure, naked DNA to the level of the
traits we carry. We will extend these thoughts to the question of genetic
change, mutation, and the ways that our histories have been shaped by these
events. Once we begin to see what current molecular biology tells us, it
will be enlightening to compare our conclusions to those of our ancestors
who did not have access to the kind of detailed knowledge that is available
to us now.