A program that focuses on the scientific study of the genetics of multicellular animal life forms from the experimental, comparative, and clinical (veterinary and medical) viewpoints. Includes instruction in molecular genetics, gene expression, gene regulation, genomics, epigenetic phenomena, DNA recombination and repair, genetic interactions at the microbial and higher levels, and molecular evolution.

Careers in animal genetics focus on understanding hereditary traits and structures present in animals.

Animals are complex, multicellular organisms with an array of distinct genetic markers that determine their special traits. Like us, they are susceptible to disease; however, some animals have developed genetic resistances to certain conditions or evolved to thrive in difficult environments. Every successful development can be attributed to genetic diversity; variance in genes leads to increased capacity for adaptation and better observable results.

Most animal geneticists focus their work on a particular type of animal; they may work to diversify livestock populations or track the generational progress of a particular type of rat. Their work has applications in agriculture, medical research, and environmental science, as well as implications for the food and consumer industries. For example, animal geneticists can encourage sheep to produce more wool by isolating and spreading that particular gene through selective breeding or genetic engineering. Ethical concerns have been raised over whether the benefits of interfering with animal genes justify the difficult and sometimes unpleasant process of doing so, and many current and former animal geneticists have influenced regulatory policy in the interest of animal welfare.

Work in animal genetics may include...

  • Identifying and isolating beneficial genetic markers
  • Transferring genes between organisms or species
  • Conducting genetic tests for diseases, disorders, or particular genotypes
  • Tracing historical gene development in animals
  • Selectively manipulating genes for certain outcomes

Employers in animal genetics are usually research labs run by universities or private corporations. Some biotechnology companies have animal genetic testing facilities that require trained staff, and facilities that house live animals such as zoos or industrial farms will hire gene specialists to improve output or spot abnormalities. Many animal geneticists teach, and certain government agencies will occasionally conduct genetic research on animals. Pharmaceutical development and medical research often involve animal subjects for genetic research and look for employees with experience in that area. The majority of animal geneticists are lab scientists, instructors, technicians, or bioengineers.

Many animal geneticists get their start in undergraduate programs in biology or animal science, which typically include coursework in genetics, cell biology, immunology, and evolutionary biology. Some jobs are available to candidates who hold Bachelor's degrees, but it's common for students in this field to pursue graduate education. Master's degree programs in genetics can provide unique opportunities to work with animal genes, and PhD programs go even further with independent research. Some animal geneticists supplement their research with time in veterinary school or field research, which can provide useful context for some of the discipline's most pressing questions.

Animal genetics has a number of fascinating applications and holds the key to understanding many facets of the natural world. Could it be the right career for you?

For more information, please follow the links below:

  • The International Society for Animal Genetics supports the exchange of research ideas, results and applications by organizing conferences and workshops.
  • Animal Genetics is a journal that publishes research on immunogenetics, molecular genetics and functional genomics of economically important and domesticated animals.
  • The National Animal Genome Research Program site is a bioinformatic resource containing genomic information on cattle, chicken, pigs, sheep, horse, and aquaculture species.