Starfish: Emma Hodcroft

What is Genetics?

Genes are the working parts of DNA – the vast chemical database that forms the blueprint for humans, animals, plants, insects and bacteria. Both humans and microscopic worms have about 19,000 genes (only about a QUARTER the number of people at a Man. U. match!).

We share about:

98% of our genes with an ape
80% with a mouse
50% with a fruitfly
20% with a tiny worm

Genetics is the study of genes and the chromosomes that house them:

How do genes work?
How do mistakes in genes cause disease?
How are they passed on from generation to generation
How can genes be changed?
How can genes be added to an animal or a plant?
What job does each gene in a human have?

Genetics in the real world:

Diagnoses and treats disease
Improves crops to feed the world’s population
Develops new drugs and therapies
Conserves endangered species
Preserves our environment

What do Geneticists do?

Agriculture – Plant and Animal Breeding

Genetic engineering, and genome mapping offers new opportunities in the control of diseases, increasing crop yield, producing pest resistant or drought resistant crops.


Requires a background in both computing and biology. This is a new science which is developing methods to extract information from the genomes by data analysis, modeling and statistics. This information will revolutionise the way drugs, antibiotics and pesticides are designed and applied.


The aim of the Human Genome Project is to locate and sequence the thousands of genes in the human genome. This has opened up many amazing new possibilities for locating genes that cause disease, drug discovery, drug testing and production of new therapies.

Bioscience Business

There are opportunities in the agricultural, biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies for those with a solid background in genetics to work in management, administration, marketing, reporting/writing, sales and public relations.


Genetics can be used for identification and protection of wildlife species. The use of genetic markers allows us to looks at population structure in rare, and endangered, organisms in order to make sensible decisions on their conservation, rather than relying on guesswork. Also, it is now possible to produce micro-organisms, using genetic methods, which can mop up pollution and tell us which pollutants are present (“called “biosensors”).


It is possible to uncover the evolutionary path of every organism on the planet by genetic research and through the use of statistical analyses.

Forensic Science

Forensic scientists now routinely use DNA methods not only to identify suspects, but also to eliminate the innocent.

History and Archaeology

Since DNA in tiny amounts now can be analysed, the small amounts of preserved tissue found on bones at archaeological sites can be used to reconstruct the past. Genetics can also be used to study a population and their migration patterns.


Lawyers and patent bodies are seeking those with the necessary knowledge of genetics and biotechnology for determining intellectual property, and dealing with ethical and legal issues and cases associated with genetics such as uses of the human genome data.

Medical Genetics

There are opportunities to work within the health service as a cytogeneticist, molecular and biochemical geneticist, genetic nurse, genetic counsellor or clinical geneticist. Depending on the particular position, the work can be purely laboratory based or directly involved in patient care or both. Research and clinical tests can focus on examination of abnormal chromosomes, finding possible genetic mutations and tracing the inheritance of a genetic disease.

Find out more about careers in clinical genetics 

Who do Geneticists work for?

Demand for graduates in genetics and related fields is strong. A good qualification is much sought after by many employers.

Universities require researchers and technicians and lecturers in a wide range of genetic-related fields.

Hospitals require genetics clinicians, researchers, technicians, counsellors, and nurses.

Agricultural, Pharmaceutical & Biotechnology Industries require researchers and technicians in addition to people with knowledge of genetics to work in management, writing and reporting, marketing, sales and public relations.

Government bodies and agencies require administrators, managers, and officers with knowledge of genetics for decisions in science policy, regulation, advice, legislation and awarding research grants.

In addition, genetic training in combination with another field such as law, computing, engineering can open up further avenues. Finally, a genetics degree, can be beneficial to careers not directly linked to genetics or even non-science related careers.

Check out some of the genetics courses and resources available for Postgraduates.