Thursday, 3 July 2014

Learning something new..

About a month ago it suddenly dawned on me that after my exams had finished I had three months in which to do nothing. I'm not the kind of person who can sit and watch daytime TV for three months so I decided I would use my time wisely and broaden my scientific horizons now all uni work is complete. Coursera is an online company that offers open online courses. The courses are run by their respective universities and institutions from all over the globe offer their courses to be taken online for free. Coursera offers courses covering a variety of subjects and interests including: the sciences, humanities, business, technology, maths and the arts.

Link to Coursera's website

Seeing that all the available courses could be taken for free, I decided to step away from chemistry and sign up for a course titled 'Genes and the Human Condition (From Behaviour to Biotechnology)' offered by the University of Maryland. I was always interested in Biology and really enjoyed it at A-level, especially genetics and the genome etc. so I thought why not? The course is six weeks long and began on the 23rd of June. Each week, there are six web lectures to watch which are complimented by six weekly quizzes. During the 3rd and 6th week, there are online exams to complete. Coursera is a really good learning platform as you have a week to complete the corresponding lectures and quizzes and so this gives you the freedom to learn in your own time and at your own pace. It's also different to university lectures as the lectures are online and so you can go back and watch them over and over again. My course also provides useful links to relative current research, which is fabulous and provides you with a real-life application, so to speak. 

I've recently completed my first week and I loved it. The lectures are short and snappy and a lot of information is thrown at you very quickly, which you get used to as time goes on. So far, we have covered the structure of DNA and the basics of the genome. Also covered, was one of my favourite topics, mutations. Mutations fascinate me as they are completely random and can have the effect of being neutral, advantageous or disadvantageous and many mutations may be expressed in your phenotype. For example the point mutation in the Beta-globin chain of haemoglobin in people with sickle-cell anaemia. A single nucleotide is replaced with another, giving rise to different interactions between nucleotides and hence a different overall structure, which cause the red blood cells to be sickle shaped. In biology, structure affects function and the function of these red blood cells are affected. Of course, this mutation is disadvantageous but fascinating none the less.

One lecture I found particularly interesting was about the use of flies in biotechnology. Flies are often referred to as 'tiny little people' as although their genome contains many less genes than our own, they can be used to study the effects of mutations and to study behaviour. Interestingly, I discovered that when flies are sexually rejected, they drink alcohol and can become light-headed, much like humans. They also display aggression and can experience insomnia, meaning drugs for these conditions in humans may be tested on flies.

I am thoroughly enjoying the course and I can't wait for the upcoming weeks. Yay for science. 
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