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Course Review: The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic

Learn how viral genomics can improve the response to COVID-19 and future pandemics from subject matter experts and earn a free certificate by Wellcome Connecting Science and COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium.

Dr. Leigh Jackson, course instructor.


Hi! My name is Katie Wiest. I am a medical student at Cuesta College, a certified phlebotomist, and a COVID-19 Tester during the height of the pandemic. Today, I am reviewing one of my favorite online courses: The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic. This program of study is a result of the partnership between Wellcome Connecting Science and the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium. The free class is available through FutureLearn and teaches you some key concepts in viral genomics.

Why I Took This Course

After browsing the Healthcare & Medicine Courses section of ClassCentral, I found a course titled The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic. The course piqued my interest as it is free, for beginners, and taught through FutureLearn. Its platform appealed to me as I took a Nursing class through FutureLearn recently and appreciated its user-friendly format. Even though I had never heard of genomics, I signed up for the class. My goal was to learn about genome sequencing and how it is used to understand the pandemic.

History of the Course

I was pleased to discover that the class was the first in the series “COG-Train” by Wellcome Connecting Science and COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium. The former was created by the registered charity Genome Research Ltd (Mission and Governance – WGC 2), and the latter is an association of facilities with knowledge and expertise in genome sequencing (About COG-UK 3). Four genomic specialists with extensive backgrounds teach the course: Teresa Cutino-Moguel, Sophie Prosolek, Stephanie Hutchings, and Leigh Jackson.

Figure 1- Logo reading “Wellcome Connecting Science” in black. To the left of the text is a series of three concentric circles.
Figure 2- Logo comprised of a hexagon and text. The hexagon is black and reads COG-TRAIN in white text. The text to the right of the hexagon reads COVID-19 Genomics Global Training. 
Source: Genomics and COVID-19 – Online Course – FutureLearn

According to the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium Website, the sequence is “an international educational initiative providing open-access learning in SARS-CoV-2 genomics” (About COG-Train 1). With five parts to the series, the courses provide a comprehensive education on viral genome sequencing and its relation to the SARS-CoV-2 variants of COVID-19. The program “aims to facilitate an increase in global genome sequencing and analysis capacity, reduce sequencing inequality and enhance pathogen surveillance” (About COG-Train 1).


Recommended Skills

Going into this course, I had a high school education in biology, as well as experience gained on the subject matter from my job. However, I have taken other biomedicine courses and have pursued further knowledge on topics such as cell biology. While you can take the workshop without having this level of experience, it would be more challenging to grasp the concepts. This class builds upon the foundations of cell biology to explain specific scientific processes such as genome sequencing. The image below is part of Week One, Chapter 3: Viruses, Outbreaks, and Pandemics.

A viral particle structure. The viral genome is protected by a protein coat known as a capsid. Proteins required for viral replication are also packed into the capsid. Some viruses have an envelope membrane with surface proteins that bind to the host cell surface during infection. Source: Nature Reviews Biotechnology Source: What is a Virus? – The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic – Wellcome Connecting Science (futurelearn.com)

If many of the above terms confuse you, I recommend finding a different course from Class Central that focuses on introductory biology; the lessons don’t extensively cover essential biological principles. If you understand many of the basics of biology, such as DNA and basic cell structures, the course provides enough of a refresher that you should be fine.

The Course: Overview

Signing up for the course is free and easy: Go to Genomics and COVID-19 – Online Course – FutureLearn and click “Go to class”. Sign up with FutureLearn, then click “Join Now.” Once enrolled, you can access the class content, including three weeks of articles, video lectures, and discussion forums. Some topics covered include:

  • The differences between pandemics, epidemics, and outbreaks
  • SARS-CoV-2 genomics and variants
  • COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics
  • Introduction to genomics surveillance and epidemiology
  • Lessons for future public health emergencies

The Course: In Depth

My favorite part of each week was the seven to ten included videos. While they range from under a minute to over ten minutes, they share the common feature of sharing helpful information in an easy-to-understand method. Depending on the week, the videos ranged in topics from The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 to Genomic Surveillance and its impacts. While the subject matter varies, the videos are all taught by experts. Other qualities that make the videos more enjoyable and accessible are subtitles, transcripts, and adjustable speed.

The other primary form of content is articles of varying lengths that provide a complete summary of a complex topic. To expand, each week starts with more introductory information on each topic: they provide relevant definitions and diagrams. These papers also include photos paired with descriptors (alt text) that clarify the subject matter. My favorite reference image and its accompanying description are pictured below.

History of pandemics timeline. Source: Visual Capitalist. Source: What came before? Comparison with other coronaviruses (MERS/SARS) – The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic – Wellcome Connecting Science (futurelearn.com)

The program utilizes several other learning methods, including discussions, journal clubs, and polls. The discussion portions allow you to ask questions, connect with other learners, and share your thoughts on the course. Some of these discussion-based sections were “Journal Clubs,” where you researched a topic and reported back to the class on your findings. There are also polls, which ask simple opinion-based questions that let you gain insight. The last category included in each weekly section was quizzes, which will be covered in depth in the next section.

Course Grading and Certificate Requirements

You are tested on your understanding of the content at the end of each week. The quizzes are not scored for the first two weeks and do not affect your final grade. Your only graded assignment is the test at the end of Week Three. This course is currently offering a free upgrade, which includes a certificate. To earn your certificate, you must get an overall score of at least 70% on the final exam and look at 90% of the course material. If the inclusion of the final test scares you, take a breath! The grading policy (included below) is very generous.

A screenshot from the test page of the final exam that explains test rules and grading.

If you complete all the requirements, you will receive a certificate like the one pictured below.

Certificate of Achievement for Kathryn Wiest for completing the course The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic

Time Spent Per Week

The recommended time to complete this course is 5 hours per week for three weeks. However, the course is set up so you can learn at your own pace. I was enthralled by the content and spent about 7-8 hours for two weeks.


This course is perfect for anyone interested in virology, genes, or science. While I recommend learners brand new to biology take an introductory biology course before pursuing this class, anyone from a beginner to an expert could benefit from taking The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic. In this three-week online course, you will learn about topics including but not limited to COVID-19 vaccines and the basics of genomics surveillance.

After 15 hours of learning and a unit test, you will receive a Certificate of Achievement. This illustration of your understanding of genomics can be shared through social platforms and added to your resume to highlight your accomplishment.

Next in the Series

The course The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic is the first part of a five-course series from Wellcome Genome Campus titled COG-Train. After completing the first class, I recommend moving on to the next in the series: From Swab to Server: Testing and Sequencing During a Pandemic – FutureLearn. I’m enrolled in the course; say “hi” in the discussion section if you see me!

Katie Wiest Profile Image

Katie Wiest

I am a college student studying Pre-Medicine and Biology at Cuesta College, as well as a Certified Phlebotomy Technician. I aspire to attend medical school and specialize in neurology.

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