DNA: The Basic Blueprint of Life

Part of the Genetics for the Behavior Consultant series

Jessica Hekman, DVM, MS
IAABC, Spring 2017

This course is now closed.

Overview: The human genome was sequenced in 2003, followed by sequences for many other species, including dog, cat, horse, and cow. But what do the words "genome" and "sequence" actually mean? How does your DNA sequence encode the information that makes up a basic blueprint of who you are? What does all this mean for genetic testing for disease?

In this class, you will learn about the structure of DNA, how mutations are introduced into a DNA sequence, how a DNA sequence is translated into a protein, and how proteins work together to make us who we are. We will also discuss the genomic revolution: exactly what has changed in biology and medicine as a result of the sequencing of the human genome in 2003 and our new ability to sequence the genomes of other species.

This is a class in molecular genetics and genomics. Specifically, the class will cover:

  • the molecular structure of DNA
  • DNA replication and mutations
  • transcription of DNA to RNA
  • translation of RNA to proteins
  • protein structure and function
  • genome sequencing
  • variation between individual genomes
  • genetic testing for disease (how it works, how reliable it is)
  • new advances in gene editing

The Genetics for the Behavior Consultant series: There are four classes in this series, which can be taken in any order. This class is the first and provides a good foundation for a deeper understanding of the others. The other classes are Heredity: passing genes from parent to child; From Domestication to Inbreeding: population genetics in companion animals; and Behavioral Genetics in Companion Animals.All four classes are available self-study from IAABC, and will periodically be offered interactively. If you took some of the other classes in the series when they were first offered, I encourage you to take this one now – it will help you better understand what you learned in the others!

Prerequisites: This class presumes no previous knowledge of genetics. However, the curriculum design is intended to be flexible and to support students learning at different levels. Specifically, the student-driven question structure is intended to give you the chance to learn about the related topics that interest you. If you're wondering if this class is right for you, feel free to ask: jph@dogzombie.com.

Requirements None (audit) Listen to lectures
Read weekly assignments
Weekly quiz
Submit 2 questions a week
Participate in discussion forum
CEUs 0 12
Member Cost $20 $240
Non-Member Cost $60 $320


  • April 24, 2017: Week one lectures and readings available on course site. All students are encouraged to introduce themselves on the discussion forum.
  • April 30, 11:59pm ET:
    • Quiz for week 1 due
    • Submission of 2 discussion questions on web forum due.
    • Short essay for week 1 due (see instructions on Schoology site).
  • May 1: Week two lectures and readings available on course site.

  • May 7, 11:59pm ET:
    • Quiz for week 2 due
    • Submission of 2 discussion questions on web forum due.
    • Short essay for week 2 due (see instructions on Schoology site).
  • May 8: Week three lectures and readings available on course site.

  • May 14, 11:59pm ET:
    • Quiz for week 3 due
    • Submission of 2 discussion questions on web forum due.
    • Short essay for week 3 due (see instructions on Schoology site).

Assignment details:

  • All auditors are encouraged to participate in all assignments!
  • All reading assignments will be available free online.
  • Several mini-lectures or other video viewing (less than one hour weekly) will be available on the course website.
  • Short multiple-choice quiz based on the reading assignments and videos will be required each week. Students must answer all questions correctly, but will have unlimited chances to do so and will receive automated feedback on incorrect answers.
  • A short essay, about two paragraphs in length (details on the Schoology site), is required weekly. Everyone who submits an essay will receive feedback, including auditors.
  • Two questions based on the material are required weekly. These questions may be about concepts you're unclear on, or something you want to know more about. They should be submitted directly onto the discussion forum.
  • Discussion of your and others' questions on the discussion forum is strongly encouraged for all, including auditors! Talking through the material is the best way to learn it at a deep level.

Technical Support: If you have any issues with signing up on the learning system, please contact courses@iaabc.org and please provide a detailed description of the error that you are experiencing, as well as what browser you are using, the version (if known) and if you are using a PC or Mac computer.

About the Presenter

Jessica Hekman, DVM, MSJessica is a veterinarian currently pursuing a PhD in genetics. After eleven years working as a computer programmer, she decided to go back to school to research the causes of behavior problems in dogs. She received her veterinary degree from the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts, where she also received a Master's degree for her work on stress behaviors in hospitalized dogs. After graduation, she completed a year-long internship specializing in shelter medicine at the University of Florida Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program. She is now enrolled in a PhD program in genetics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her lab studies a group of foxes (often known as the "Siberian silver foxes") which have been bred over many generations to be friendly to humans. Her ultimate goal is to find genetic causes of fearfulness in dogs, to work with behaviorally challenged shelter dogs, and to help people better understand the science behind dog behavior.

She lives in Urbana, Illinois with her husband and two dogs. You can follow her on Twitter @dogzombieblog or read her blog at http://dogzombie.blogspot.com.


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