DNA: The Molecule of Life

In the last half century, our knowledge of life has been revolutionised by the finding that DNA is the molecule that carries the genetic information that determines the characteristics of any organism. This course will introduce students to the history of the discovery of the chemical structure of DNA, the structure itself, its role in the transmission of genetic information, and how it is used in activities such as forensic examination of crime scenes. Students will undertake a number of written activities to familiarise themselves with the molecule. No knowledge of chemistry is assumed.

This class will be delivered face-to-face at WEA Sydney. Enrolling students need to ensure they have read the current COVID-19 Safety Guidance that WEA Sydney has put in place before enrolling.


  • The course will begin with a discussion of how in the 19th century there was an explosion in the knowledge of the chemical constitution of matter.
  • Concurrently there were advances in biology, with scientists observing cell division, while famously Gregor Mendel carried out experiments that showed aspects of the inheritance of traits.
  • In the early 20th century chromosomes were identified as the carriers of genetic material (the material that determines who were are), and to be made of protein and DNA. But which was the actual carrier of genetic information – protein or DNA?
  • In the first half of the 20th century some classic experiments established that DNA was the carrier of genetic information. We will look at these (in a simple manner), and then at the establishment of the structure of DNA, and the major features of that structure.
  • Major properties of DNA will be discussed, as will modern genetic engineering.
  • Through a number of exercises, students will see how easy it is to pick up some of the fundamentals of the genetic engineering of DNA.
  • Finally students will look at how DNA is used in forensics, and if time permits how it is manipulation (as seen in genetically modified organisms) is regulated in Australia.


By the end of the course students should be able to:

  1. Understand the structure of DNA, and how it can be manipulated.
  2. Appreciate the basics of some of the classic experiments that led to the establishment that DNA is the genetic material.
  3. See how DNA is used in a modern forensics laboratory.

This course has no current classes. Please join the waiting list by clicking .