Genetics (from Ancient Greek Î³ÎµÎ½ÎµÏ„Î¹ÎºÏŒÏ‚ genetikos, "genitive" and that from Î³ÎÎ½ÎµÏƒÎ¹Ï‚ genesis, "origin"), a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms.
Genetics deals with the molecular structure and function of genes, with gene behavior in the context of a cell or organism (e.g. dominance and epigenetics), with patterns of inheritance from parent to offspring, and with gene distribution, variation and change in populations. Given that genes are universal to living organisms, genetics can be applied to the study of all living systems, from viruses and bacteria, through plants (especially crops) and domestic animals, to humans (as in medical genetics).
The fact that living things inherit traits from their parents has been used since prehistoric times to improve crop plants and animals through selective breeding. However, the modern science of genetics, which seeks to understand the process of inheritance, only began with the work of Gregor Mendel in the mid-19th century. Although he did not know the physical basis for heredity, Mendel observed that organisms inherit traits via discrete units of inheritance, which are now called genes.
Genes correspond to regions within DNA, a molecule composed of a chain of four different types of nucleotidesâ€”the sequence of these nucleotides is the genetic information organisms inherit. DNA naturally occurs in a double stranded form, with nucleotides on each strand complementary to each other. Each strand can act as a template for creating a new partner strand. This is the physical method for making copies of genes that can be inherited.
The sequence of nucleotides in a gene is translated by cells to produce a chain of amino acids, creating proteinsâ€”the order of amino acids in a protein corresponds to the order of nucleotides in the gene. This relationship between nucleotide sequence and amino acid sequence is known as the genetic code. The amino acids in a protein determine how it folds into a three-dimensional shape; this structure is, in turn, responsible for the protein's function. Proteins carry out almost all the functions needed for cells to live. A change to the DNA in a gene can change a protein's amino acids, changing its shape and function: this can have a dramatic effect in the cell and on the organism as a whole.
Although genetics plays a large role in the appearance and behavior of organisms, it is the combination of genetics with what an organism experiences that determines the ultimate outcome. For example, while genes play a role in determining an organism's size, the nutrition and health it experiences after inception also have a large effect.
Matching Genetics Colleges
University of California-Davis
Four or more years; Public; $34,098 average out-state tuition; $11,220 average in-state tuition
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Iowa State University
Four or more years; Public; $18,280 average out-state tuition; $6,408 average in-state tuition
Washington State University
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University of Georgia
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University of Connecticut
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North Carolina State University at Raleigh
Four or more years; Public; $17,988 average out-state tuition; $5,153 average in-state tuition
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