On the Fly
Markstein Lab | Teaching


Classes taught by Prof. Michele Markstein

I teach two undergraduate courses every Spring semester

  • Biol 283: General Genetics, a lecture based course with 200 students
  • Biol 486H: Molecular Biology of Model Systems, a team-taught laboratory course with 24 students
You will not need to purchase a textbook for any course that I teach because I use freely available open access materials.


Why you should take this course. (Sure, it’s required, but that’s not the only reason!)

Genetics is among the most exciting and fastest growing fields in biology. Being able to understand how DNA sequence relates to physical and behavioral traits, diseases, developmental biology and evolution, is fundamental to your education as a biology major. It is also fundamental to your role as an informed citizen because advances in genetics have outpaced our laws and ethical standards: as a society we need to figure out fast who should have access to our DNA sequences, whether we should permit doctors and parents to edit the genomes of future generations of humans, and whether we should allow genetic modifications of entire species, such as mosquitoes across the planet.


Genetics owes its recent success and unprecedented growth as a field to advances in DNA sequencing technology. When the human genome was sequenced in 2001, the total bill was about $3 billion dollars. Today you can have your entire genome sequenced for less than $1000, which is over a million-fold drop in cost. Imagine anything dropping in price by one million fold. How much would your car cost? Pennies. DNA sequencing has been a real game-changer.


However, just because we know the sequence of our DNA, does not mean that we understand everything about what genes do. Far from it!

Conceptual sections

Section One: From Molecules To Mendel


In this course we will start with an up-to-date view of what genes are on the molecular level and what they look like across the human genome. We will then ask the question, how can we relate what we know about genes to phenotypes in humans, or any other organism?


The answer to this question is that we can’t do it directly based on sequence alone. We still need classical genetics as originally described by Mendel. To appreciate the power of classical genetics, we will solve many textbook-style problems. In this section of the course you will become fluent in the basic language of genetics and you will learn the underlying molecular basis for patterns of inheritance. At the conclusion of this section, you will be able to:

  1. Determine if a trait is genetic
  2. Determine if a trait is caused by inheritance of a single gene or multiple genes
  3. Interpret a human karyotype
  4. Predict the likelihood of the transmission of diseases in a human pedigree
  5. Explain the molecular basis for dominant and recessive traits


Section Two: Mapping Genes and Personal Genomics


The next section of the course bridges classical genetics with molecular biology. You will learn how to connect phenotypes to actual gene sequences by using genetic and physical maps of the genome. You will learn about fundamental techniques including PCR, DNA sequencing, and cloning. You be able to explain to your family and friends how personal genomics companies like 23&Me determine your genotype and whether that information is really useful. This section will include discussions of human diseases and evolution.


Section Three: Genetic Research Today and Applications


In the last section you will learn how we figure out what genes do. You will learn how to design genetic screens using model organisms and how to make transgenic animals using transposons, homologous recombination, and Crispr-Cas9 genome editing technologies. Your will learn about specific applications including cancer biology and the creation of gene drives.



This is an introductory course designed for sophomores in the life sciences. You should come to class already familiar with: The Central Dogma, Mitosis, Meiosis, and some exposure to Mendelian Genetics. After taking this course, you can consider advanced courses in genetics, including Genomics and Bioinformatics (Biol 379H), Microbial Genetics (MicroBio 330), Molecular Biology of Model Systems (Biol 486H), Population Genetics (Biol 514), and Advanced Genetics (Biol 583).

Every year we assemble an amazing team of TAs to help you with genetics.

These are undergraduates who mastered the class in previous years, plus one graduate student in the UMass MCB program. The TAs offer office hours every day of the week and run review sessions before and after exams.

TAs for Bio283 Spring 2016: (left to right) Rory O’Connell, Aishwarya Vishwanath , Mark Yao, Jonathan DiRusso, Nick Rivelli, Jarret Man

TAs for Bio283 Spring 2017: (left to right) Rory O’Connell, Franco Palacios, Victor Agwu, Courtney Leonard, Edridge D’Souza, Megan Paradis, Irina Polunina, Jason Cahoon, Olivia Williamson. (not shown: Aiste Balciunaite)

BIOL 486H: Molecular Biology of Model Systems
This laboratory course provides you with hands-on experience with three model systems commonly used in research labs: Yeast, Fruit Flies, and Zebrafish. The course is taught by faculty whose own research employs these model systems to answer a diverse range of biological problems. Lab exercises will employ sophisticated, state-of-the-art molecular methods and are designed to be similar to an authentic research experience that you could potentially use beyond the course.


Markstein Fly Module


In this module you will accomplish great feats on a molecular level by employing Drosophila genetics. You will use a lethal transgene to create a population of pure virgin females (note: this is not for the faint-of-heart, as it involves genetically inducing the death of all their brothers). You will make a recombinant chromosome that makes flies permanently glow green. You will induce a transgene embedded in the fly genome to randomly jump to new places in the fly genome and you will identify the transgenes that have landed in desirable locations by using a Green Fluorescence Protein (GFP) reporter. You will also get experience using RNA interference (RNAi) in vivo.


You will learn how to employ state-of-the-art genetic techniques


  1. How to set up genetic crosses in flies.
  2. How to kill undesirable animals by inducing programmed cell death (apoptosis) with a heat-shock inducible lethal transgene.
  3. How the yeast Gal4-UAS heterologous gene expression system works in flies to express transgenes in specific cells at specific times
  4. How to mobilize transgenes using transposable element genetics
  5. How to make a recombinant chromosome
  6. How RNAi works