Genetics has always been concerned with the problem of how the hereditary information in DNA controls what an organism looks like and how it works. Classically, this involved the use of genetic variants (mutants) to upset the biological function of the cells or organisms and, from the effect of these mutations, to make deductions about the way cells and organisms worked. At the molecular end of the subject, the availability of sequence information and genomic analysis, together with sophisticated techniques for gene replacement, and analysis of gene expression patterns (microarray technology), gives us much more powerful tools for looking at the way genes work to make us what we are. At the other extreme of the subject knowledge of genetics is fundamental to an understanding of how organisms, populations and species evolve. One of the most exciting developments in the subject in the last few years is the way in which these two extremes have begun to approach each other, through the application of the new molecular systematics to the problems of development, evolution, and speciation.
Geneticists believe that the methods and techniques of genetics are applicable throughout the spectrum of biological activity, and are as relevant to molecular biology as to population studies. Some of the basic tools of modern biology (analysis of genomic sequences and bioinformatics) are most intelligently used in the knowledge of the genetic principles that underpin the design and application of the software. At the other end of the spectrum, knowledge of genetics is fundamental to an understanding of the evolution of populations and species.
The scope of Genetics
Genes carry the information which largely determines what you are and how you function in the environment. As we learn more about how genes work in different organisms, we find that this knowledge and understanding is fundamental to each and every area of biological study. Our increasing knowledge of the organisation and function of the human genome is having profound effects on the understanding and treatment of disease. Genetics helps us to understand evolution and speciation, and genetically engineered micro-organisms have the potential to be the industrial units of the future. Finally, genetics underpins most programmes in animal and plant breeding for agriculture, even the production of the much-maligned genetically-manipulated plants!
What can you do with a degree in Genetics?
Students with the degree find employment in the biotechnology, health, or food industries or in academic research laboratories. Recent graduates work as technologists and project managers for biotechnology companies such as Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, Integrated DNA Technologies, NewLink Genetics, Calyxt, and Orion Genomics and in chemistry, biology, cytogenetics, and genotyping labs in hospitals and universities.
Students are encouraged to check graduate and professional programs of interest early in their academic careers for specific entrance requirements including both courses and research, job-shadowing, work, teaching, mentoring, or volunteer experiences.