A program that focuses on the scientific study of the genetics of multicellular plants and fungi as related to botanical research as well as to applications in comparative genetics, ecology and evolutionary studies, clinical studies, and industrial research. 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 plant genetics focus on hereditary characteristics and genetic variation in plants.

Plants have genes, just like the rest of us. They are structured and stored in distinct ways that require comprehensive knowledge of plant biology to make use of. Plant geneticists use a combination of scientific and horticultural techniques to identify and isolate factors that make plants resistant to disease, predators, or environmental distress. Though they have a presence in many fields, they primarily work in agriculture, where they assess and edit plants on the genetic level.

Genetics work can vary enormously, and geneticists have an array of different goals depending on their affiliations and training. Some encourage plants to produce more of a useful food or fiber, while others introduce entirely new genetic traits to plant specimens, such as bioluminescence. Using processes and techniques like selective breeding, cloning, propagating, and grafting, plant geneticists can create and customize plants for various purposes. Some plant geneticists are less interested in engineering new plants than in restoring the historic genetic diversity that has been affected by monoculture; they may cultivate heirloom species for commercial or conservation purposes, which can prove beneficial to modern populations and environments.

Work in plant genetics may include...

  • Identifying genes that can be used to improve plant output or function
  • Using breeding, grafting, or editing techniques to give plants certain traits
  • Growing and monitoring plants with selected traits
  • Collecting specimens from crops or wild areas
  • Conducting tests and analyzing the resulting data

The majority of plant geneticists work in commercial agriculture, spending their days in private labs or greenhouses. Some are employed by private corporations, particularly in biotechnology and materials science. Others may work in botanical gardens or museums, where they do historical research and manage seed libraries. Government agencies such as the FDA and USDA employ plant geneticists to conduct research, and some state agencies bring them on board to assist with regulation and policy. Plant geneticists with advanced degrees may teach, lecture, or run university labs, and often publish work in journals or speak at trade conferences.

Students with an interest in plant genetics typically pursue a Bachelor's degree in biology, genetics, or botany, which includes coursework in cell biology, plant breeding, biochemistry, and forestry. There are numerous positions available to graduates of four-year programs, but it's common to pursue graduate study. Master's and PhD programs are a great option for students who want to gain field experience or conduct independent research, and the additional qualification can open a lot of doors for aspiring plant scientists.

Plants are complex organisms with many unique properties. If you want to use these properties to their fullest potential, maybe a career in plant genetics is calling your name.

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