“The Beauty & Mystery of the Human Genome”

DNA, formed in the famous double helix, is organized into chromosomes and helps shape the identity of all living things. It is remarkable that the particular sequence of DNA can specify whether a creature is a snake, plant, virus, or human. This presentation provides a brief overview of the tree of life, and in honor of Darwin Day (February 12) we present Darwin’s own evolutionary tree. We then explore the DNA in the human genome. Following the completion of the human genome project (2003) and the first report of an individual’s human genome (2007), hundreds of thousands of human genomes have now been sequenced. We introduce the genomics revolution that allows genomes to be sequenced, examine the relationship between the genome and disease, and welcome discussion of Darwin’s ideas on evolution in contemporary biology.

Dr. Jonathan Pevsner is a Professor in the Department of Neurology (Kennedy Krieger Institute) and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (Johns Hopkins Medicine). His lab studies the genetic basis of childhood brain disorders and reported a mutation that causes a rare disease (Sturge-Weber syndrome) as well as commonly occurring birthmarks. (Jonathan now serves as Chief Scientific Officer of the Sturge-Weber Foundation.) The lab recently reported a genetic cause for 5% of autism cases. Jonathan is the recipient of five teaching awards at Johns Hopkins. He wrote a textbook, Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics (3rd edition, 2015). He also has a long-standing interest in Leonardo da Vinci, and teaches and lectures extensively on him. He has published articles on Leonardo’s studies of the brain, and has been featured as a Leonardo expert on the History Channel and the Discovery Channel.

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