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Subject Summary: Part II Genetics

Genetics has become an even more high profile subject in recent years as a result of rapid developments in genomics and the application of this knowledge to the problems of disease and the genetic manipulation of plants and animals. Whatever your opinion of these applications, genetics offers a viewpoint and a range of experimental approaches that is deeply embedded in most areas of biological enquiry. 

The subject has always been concerned with the problem of how the hereditary information in DNA specifies the form and function of the organism. Classically this involved the use of genetic variants (mutants) to upset the biological function of the cell and, from the effect of these mutations, to make deductions about the way cells and organisms worked. The rise of high throughput sequencing, genomics and sophisticated techniques for gene replacement and analysis of gene expression and its consequences (transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics), give us much more powerful tools for looking at the way genes make us what we are. At the same time, a knowledge of genetics is fundamental to an understanding of the evolution of populations and species. Some of the most exciting developments in the subject in the last few years have emerged from the application of genetics and molecular biology to the problems of development, evolution, and speciation. 

The aim of the Part II Genetics course is to produce biologists with a wide knowledge of the principles of genetics and an understanding of how they can be applied. As a result the course is broad in scope, ranging from microbial genetics to the genetics of evolution and populations. The course covers (i) genomes, chromosomes and the cell cycle; (ii) developmental genetics; (iii) human genetics, genomics and systems biology; and (iv) evolutionary genetics & adaptation. The course includes training in evaluation of scientific papers and experimental data, and features discussion sessions on the social and ethical aspects of genetics.

As a result of a training with this breadth of approach, Part II Genetics graduates remain in demand and find it easy to move between scientific disciplines. Prospects can only improve as a result of genome projects, programmes in agricultural and medical genetics, the application of genetics to environmental problems and molecular genetic approaches to brain structure and function.

Programme Specification: Part II Genetics

This course is taught by the Department of Genetics.


  1. to provide a high quality broadly-based education across the range of the subject including molecular studies, genomics, population and evolutionary genetics;
  2. to provide a stimulating and challenging learning environment where students are encouraged to learn for themselves and to engage in debate about the applications of genetic knowledge;
  3. to provide training in the principles and practice of scientific research through a research project, and skills and experience in the evaluation of the results of such research;
  4. to provide opportunities to develop presentational skills and analytical and problem solving skills, that can be used in the student's future career.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students should have:

  1. knowledge of the theoretical and experimental foundations of classical and modern genetics;
  2. understanding of the broad applications of genetics throughout biology;
  3. specialised knowledge and understanding of selected aspects;
  4. experience and appreciation of research skills by means of a project;
  5. experience of computer analysis of genetic and genome data;
  6. developed skills in literature searching and in critical analysis of information;
  7. developed skills in written and oral presentations.

Teaching and learning methods

These include lectures, seminars, problem solving sessions, supervisions and group discussions


Assessement is by

  • five unseen written papers (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 1-3, 6 and 7);
  • a dissertation and a research project in the same scientific area (for aims 3 and 4 and learning outcomes 3-7).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None.


A Level Biology, NST Part IA Biology of Cells; NST Part IB Cell and Developmental Biology.

In addition, NST Part IA Evolution & Behaviour, Part IA Mathematical Biology, Part IB Evolution & Animal Diverstiy and IB Mathematical and Computational Biology provide valuable introductions to evolutionary and populations aspects of the Part II course.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.