Genetics is the biological science that studies the ways in which hereditary qualities are transferred from one generation to the next. Genetics provides an essential basis by which all living organisms, from microorganisms to plants, animals and the human race, are studied.
Geneticists study the genetic composition of living organisms and attempt to explain how information is transferred from one cell to another and from one generation to the next.
Genetics can be divided into the following fields:
Cytogenetics: the genes that occur in the genetic material of the organism determine the characteristics of organisms. This genetic material (DNA) is packed in the cell in the form of chromosomes. The qualities of chromosomes and their behaviour form the central part of cytogenetics.
Molecular genetics: A study is made of the molecular nature and functioning of genetic material. Techniques are developed through which scientists are able to characterise, change and utilise genes for commercial use. This technology is applied in genetic engineering and biotechnology and plays an increasingly important role in the medical, agricultural and industrial fields.
Population genetics and plant and animal breeding: The study of genes on the cellular level and the behaviour of genes in groups of organisms go hand in hand. This gives rise to one of the most important fields of genetics application, namely the use of genetics to make predictions, which are then used in the breeding of plants and animals.
Human genetics: An important field of genetics is the study of genetic diseases in humans. Better knowledge of human genetics and the molecular nature of defective genes makes it easier today to successfully diagnose and prevent possible genetically associated diseases.
Other fields of application are: Microbe-genetics, pharmaco-genetics, cancer-genetics, immuno-genetics and the genetics of mental disabilities.
Geneticists often perform laboratory work but also work on farms where they work on plant breeding. These are outdoor posts, but geneticists can also be office and/or lab bound. They do laboratory research, computer analyses, mathematical analyses in population studies and breeding, and diagnostic work in the human, plant and animal fields.
Degree: The following degrees, which generally include the option of a course in Genetics, are offered at most universities - a BSc degree, BSc (Agric). The Natural Sciences and Agriculture faculties of universities can be contacted for further information.
The BSc takes 3 years and a BSc (Agric) 4 years to complete. Several job opportunities, especially in research, require postgraduate qualifications. Genetics is offered as a course at US, Wits, UP, UKZN, UCT, US.
Today, especially in South Africa, the field of Biotechnology (courses available at UJ, UWC, RU, UKZN, UCT, UFS, US, UL, or at DUT, TUT and VUT) is showing immense growth, especially in Plant Biotechnology.
Those who want to become geneticists must undertake advanced postgraduate studies.
The Southern African Society for Human Genetics (SASHG)
University of the Witwatersrand
P O Box 1038
Tel: (011) 489-9223