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Genetics intersects almost every other field of biology. For this reason, professionals with a genetics education have a broad range of career opportunities. The recent success of the Human Genome Project has created a great demand for genetics professionals with a variety of expertise in all areas of genetics, not only those applicable to human disease.

Geneticists are involved in identifying genes responsible for basic biological traits, including genes that cause disease or mediate a response to a medication. Geneticists also determine how those genes function in organisms, including plants, animals, and humans. They may treat individuals with a particular genetic disorder or counsel families regarding the genetics of human disease. Geneticists are also involved in identifying genetic mechanisms to improve agricultural processes, such as breeding pest-resistant fruits and vegetables. Geneticists are also interested in the distribution of genetic variations in populations and how those variations arise. Additional job responsibilities may include educating students and the general public, lobbying Congress to pass bills to support genetic research, and testifying in legal cases on the probability that a suspect committed a crime, based on evidence from DNA forensics.

Because the responsibilities of geneticists are highly varied, the educational requirements of geneticists are also quite varied. Individuals with a bachelor's degree are qualified to perform many laboratory procedures, but most often individuals in the field of genetics will obtain a graduate degree. Those geneticists with master's degrees include highly skilled laboratory geneticists and genetic counselors. Geneticists who direct their own research projects must have a Ph.D. in genetics or an M.D. with specialty training in genetics.

Geneticists with a Ph.D. are highly trained professionals who perform genetic research in the areas of expertise mentioned above. Individuals with an M.D. are uniquely skilled in the treatment of patients with genetic disorders and are also often involved in research projects. Many individuals combine a genetics education with learning in other subjects, such as business, law, or computer science. Once having obtained the proper education, geneticists will find job opportunities at academic centers (such as colleges and universities), in government agencies (such as the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation), and in industry (for example, pharmacogenetics companies). The salaries paid to genetics professionals will range from $25,000 to well over $100,000, depending on the level of education, area of educational expertise, and job environment (academic, federal, or industrial).

A career in genetics can be exciting; and this is true for all areas of education, expertise, and job environment. It is exhilarating to have the opportunity to participate in research that impacts the treatment of a disease, or improves the crop yield for farmers, or helps correctly identify individuals who commit crimes.

Allison Ashley-Koch


Internet Resources

Careers in Genetics and the Biosciences. Human Genome Project. <http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/education/careers.html>.

Genetics: Educational Information. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. <http://www.faseb.org/genetics/careers.htm>.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 2