Twin Research and Human Genetics

Nature & Nurture
Do twins hold the key to understanding complex human traits and diseases? Can they resolve the age-old debate between nature and nurture? What is determined by our DNA, what comes from our environment? Thanks to recent technological advances, we are closer than ever to explaining where our individual differences come from. Our ability to map human DNA at high resolution in large populations is now enabling us to link genetic variation to traits and disease at the molecular level.
Course levelAdvanced Bachelor/Master
Block 3
5 to 19 August
Recommened course combination
Block 1: Neurodegenerative Diseases: From Clinic to Bench, Global Health
Block 2: Brain and Mind, Human Movement Analysis
Co-ordinating lecturerAbdel Abdellaoui
Other lecturersdr. Abdel Abdellaoui, prof. dr. Dorret I. Boomsma, prof. dr. Eco J. C. de Geus, prof. dr. Conor Dolan, dr. Michel Nivard, dr. Jenny van Dongen, and others.
Form(s) of tuitionLectures, practicals, workshops, excursions
Form(s) of assessmentAttendance, presentations, practical assignments
ECTS3 credits
Contact hours50
Total tuition fee€1000
All students interested in the rapidly evolving field of human genetics, especially those aspiring to join its international research community. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students with a wide variety of backgrounds.
Experience with BSc-level statistics and research methods is recommended.
Do twins hold the key to understanding complex human traits and diseases? Can they resolve the age-old debate between nature and nurture? What is determined by our DNA, what comes from our environment? Thanks to recent technological advances, we are closer than ever to explaining where our individual differences come from. Our ability to map human DNA at high resolution in large populations is now enabling us to link genetic variation to traits and disease at the molecular level.

This interdisciplinary course puts you at the forefront of these exciting and important developments. You focus on twins to explore the interplay of genes and environment in determining behaviour, lifestyle and health.

Uniquely, you gain hands-on access to the world-renowned Netherlands Twin Register at VU Amsterdam – one of the largest longitudinal databases of its kind. Your tutors are scientists closely associated with this core asset, the people who collect the information and work with it on a daily basis to unravel the genetic etiology of a wide range of medical conditions and personal characteristics. They train you in working with twin data and information from genomics and epigenetics. You learn how to collect material on behaviour and health and how to use molecular data to better understand the path from genetics to medicine. Naturally, we also cover the theoretical and philosophical background to help you interpret genetic studies, understand effective methods and designs and increase your understanding of complex human traits.

  • You understand and can interpret results from genetic studies of complex human behavioural traits.
  • You understand the current state of human genetics research in a historical perspective and can contribute to discussions about gene-environment interaction.
  • You can analyse genetically informative twin and family data.
  • You understand the assessment and diagnosis of traits and phenotypes.
  • You can work with multiple “-omics” data: genomics, epigenomics, transcriptomics (gene expression) and microbiomics.
Visits to biobank facilities and laboratories, and twin activities in Amsterdam. 
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