CCST9025 Scientific and Technological Literacy
Genetics and Human Nature

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


Course Description

The overall theme of this course is that genetics and evolution provide a useful perspective for understanding many important aspects of our lives, including our psychological makeup and how we relate to others. The course will draw on multiple intellectual disciplines – genetics, evolution, mathematics, statistics and psychology – to address the following fundamental issues:

  • How life is maintained from one generation to the next through genes, and how living organisms can adapt to the environment through changes in the genes.
  • How human individual and group differences in important domains such as personality, abilities and talents, behaviour and health are influenced by genetic and environmental differences.
  • How the nature or humankind may have been shaped by our evolutionary past, and the implications this has on the future of our species.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Describe and explain the basic principles of genetics and evolution, and give an account of the principal historical figures and their major ideas and contributions.
  2. Evaluate the evidence concerning the relative roles of nature and nurture (or genes and environment) in the determination of human individual and group differences, and to discuss the implications of the findings of such studies.
  3. Analyze how humankind’s evolutionary past may have shaped our emotional makeup and thereby impact on how we behave to each other and the material world.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Course will be offered twice:
Section 1 – First semester (Wed); Section 2 – Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Reading / Self-study 60
Assessment: Reflective writing 20
Assessment: Poster presentation (incl preparation) 20
Total: 134

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Tutorial discussions 25
Poster presentation 25
Reflective writing 25
In-class quizzes 25

Required Reading

Selected chapters from:

  • Dawkins, R. (2006). The selfish gene (30th anniversary ed.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Pinker, S. (2003). The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. New York: Penguin Books.

Recommended Reading

  • Collins, F. S. (2010). The language of life: DNA and the revolution in personalized medicine. New York: Harper.
  • Ridley, M. (1996). The origins of virtue. London: Viking.

Recommended Websites


Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor P.C. Sham
Centre for Genomic Sciences, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 3917 9557
Email: pcsham@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor P.C. Sham
Centre for Genomic Sciences, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 3917 9557
Email: pcsham@hku.hk
Dr L.W. Baum
Centre for Genomic Sciences, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 2831 5106
Email: lwbaum@hku.hk
Dr W.L. Yang
Centre for Genomic Sciences, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 2831 5077
Email: yangwl@hku.hk
Dr M.M. Garcia-Barcelo
Centre for Genomic Sciences, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 2831 5073
Email: mmgarcia@hku.hk