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Course Descriptions

BIOL 49500 The RNA World, CRISPR, and Coronavirus

Session Offered:

Spring Credit 2




The RNA World, the hypothesis that ribonucleic acid (RNA) was the first of the three central biological macromolecules (RNA, DNA, and protein) to function as a genetic material and preceded the others in terrestrial evolutionary history, is a core concept in modern biology.  The evidence for the existence of the RNA world is strong and includes the facts that RNAs can and do function as catalysts and provide the critical components for protein production and even for DNA replication.  This course will reexamine biology from the perspective of evolution from an RNA World. 

Two central examples of the manifestation of the persistence of the RNA World will be explored. 

  1.    1.  The CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) system is in fact an RNA-dependent antibacteriophage immunity machinery that is being used as a gene-editing technology. 
  2.   2.  Coronaviruses are positive-sense RNA viruses, which may be descended from early RNA life forms.

The course will explore not only chemical origin-of-life scenarios and RNA biology but also how modern biology reflects its RNA origins.  We will also explore the medical, social and ethical implications of RNA-derived technologies and how viruses with RNA as their genetic material cast their influence upon our lives at manifold levels.



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