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The science of genetics studies the laws of heredity in living organisms. Genetics as a science is a part of biology, but it has many applications in other fields, such as medicine, animal breeding and agriculture, and biotechnology. Particularly over the past few years genetics has become a household word due to such recent phenomena as GMO foods, transgenic animals and the mapping of the human genome.

Genetics can be divided into several areas based on the object and methods of research. The primary research target may be the structure and function of a single gene, the cell, and individual, a population or an entire biological species. Some of the central areas in this science are molecular genetics, cell biology and molecular cytology, developmental biology, population genetics and evolutionary science, and genomics and bioinformatics.

The boundaries of these subdisciplines are far from strict, and the same methodology is employed in most if not all of them. Knowledge of molecular genetics in particular is essential in all modern genetic research. An increasingly important field is bioinformatics, which combines molecular biology and computer science. A wealth of information is available in the huge databases on the internet, and to process this information we need not only efficient computers but also people who can understand and further utilize the extracted information.

Genetics has applications in many areas, for example in human biology, medicine, the selective breeding of crops, domestic and fur animals and fish, and in the monitoring of both harmful and beneficial microbes. Geneticists work in collaboration with many medical facilities, research institutes, in industry and agriculture, and in forestry.

Genetics has a central role in modern biology and its impact in everyday life will continue to increase. Even if only for this reason, it is good to know something about heredity. Genetics studies that amazing phenomenon, life, at its most basic level, and this makes the science of genetics tremendously important and incredibly fascinating.

Research at the Division of Genetics

There are several research groups working within the division. Central research interests include the genetics of plant stress responses (Palva, P. Heino), the genetics of plant pathogenic bacteria (Saarilahti), bioinformatics (Holm), cancer genetics (Nyström-Lahti), immunogenetics (Schröder), genetics of muscular diseases (Pelin), and Drosophila as a model organism for developmental genetics (T. Heino).

Studying Genetics at Helsinki University

Studies in genetics as a major subject begins with common courses in general biology, which give an overview of the diverse fields in biology. Basic studies in genetics introduce the different subdisciplines, and during advanced studies the student may specialize according to his or her area of interest. Possible areas of specialization are, for instance, molecular genetics, microbial genetics, developmental genetics, medical genetics, genetic bioinformatics, and population genetics. There are no official specialization programs within genetics and student choose courses, exam books and the subject of their graduate work based on their focus of interest.

For minor subjects, students of genetics may choose any fields they wish, but these should support their own area of specialization. The other biological sciences are particularly recommended, particularly biochemistry (molecular genetics), microbiology (microbial genetics and biotechnology), physiology (developmental and medical genetics), and evolutionary biology (population genetics). Computer science is virtually indispensable for those interested in bioinformatics. Other useful minor subjects include chemistry, statistics and mathematics. Those students who aim for positions in administration of consultation should also consider taking courses in communication sciences, political science, law or economic science. Because genetics covers almost the whole field of biology, it is an excellent choice for major for those wishing to become teachers.

Basic studies in biology and genetics are taught in Finnish or Swedish, but several advanced-level lecture courses and seminars are given in English. Also all text books used in final exams are in English. Laboratory courses are taught in Finnish, but the course materials are in English, so foreign students can participate without much trouble. A full list of courses given in English at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences can be found under the section teaching in english.