Office of Undergraduate Instruction


This course is intended for non-science majors. It can be used to meet the new SAS Core Curriculum goals in 21st Century Challenges [21C] and Natural Sciences [NS].

This course CANNOT be used to fulfill the requirements of the Biological Sciences major or the Genetics major. Offered: Fall

Credits :4

Prerequisites: none

Course Description

Why do humans get sick? Why are diabetes and obesity on the rise? Why have cancer and cardiovascular diseases become so prevalent? Is there a mismatch between the environments in which we evolved and environments in which we now live? Why did cholera, measles, mumps, whooping cough, and malaria become epidemic diseases? Why has evolution failed to make us immune to disease? Based in cutting-edge genetic and evolutionary biology research conducted at Rutgers, “Genetics, Evolution, and Human Health” explores what science can tell us about what it means to be human and why humans get sick. How can genetics be used and misused? What social, political, environmental, and medical changes would be required to improve human health in the 21st century?

Topics include:

Human evolution and migration, adaption to changing environments, why evolution  made us vulnerable to diseases such as diabetes, and cancer, coevolution with other plants and animals. misuse of genetics (eugenics
Course URL


Description here.

Course Learning Goals

At the end of this course students will be able to discuss (with evidence) the following topics. In addition they will be able to discuss how science can be used to help deal with social issues.

1.         What does it mean to be human from  Genetic and Evolutionary Biology points of view.  This will include the evidence that all extant humans are members of a single species (Homo sapiens ) sharing common traits.

2.         That the environment in which we live is not the environment in which we evolved.  That is means that there is an environmental  mismatch, That is, our bodies were shaped for environments far different from those we live in, and this mismatch gives rise to much disease.

3.         That any individual will be more or less vulnerable to diseasesGenetics and Evolution can provide clues as to why disease happens.

4.         That human evolution is due to a great part to technological intervention.  Technological intervention can be both positive and negative. The masteries of fire and cooking were conditions that changed future evolution. (Smaller guts, larger brains smaller jaws and reduced tooth size). The invention of agriculture allowed population growth but also allowed many diseases (cholera, measles, mumps, whooping coughs, malaria) to become epidemic.

5.         That humans coevolved with many other organisms and in certain environments.   We have 300 to 1000 species of bacteria in our intestines a that are vital to our health.  We ingest or smell plants that provide important component including regulating our moods.  John Donne’s quote “No man is an island, entire of itself”should be more widely cast as no Species is an Island entire of itself.  Leaving our partners behind as we move to urbanized environments can be detrimental to our health.

6.         That genetic and evolutionary advances, like any scientific advance,  can be positive or negative. For example, Misunderstanding of the nature of genetic differences contributed to the eugenics movements that occurred throughout the 2oth century (and have never really gone away) .

SAS Learning Goals

21st Century Challenges [21C] and Natural Sciences [NS].

Exams, Assignments, and Grading Policy

Weekly quizzes & reflective writing, recitations including written assignments, course project, final exam.

Course Materials

Required Texts:

Spencer Wells. The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey  ISBN: 0-8129-7145-9 (Paperback)

Rob Dunn.    The Wild Life of our BodiesISBN: 978-0-06-180648-3

Course Closed?

If the course is closed there are no special permission numbers.  The stop point is the right at the number of seats in the room.


Dr. Terry McGuire

Nelson Biol Labs B420

Contact by email only please - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

** All information is subject to change at the discretion of the course coordinator

Contact Us

Nelson Biological Laboratories

Nelson Biological Laboratories
604 Allison Rd
Piscataway, NJ 08854

p. (848) 445-2075
f.  (732) 445-5870