A geneticist studies how DNA and heredity affect the lives of humans and other organisms. The field of genetics is growing rapidly and spreading into diverse areas including medicine, agriculture, pharmacology, criminal justice, anthropology, epidemiology, law, politics, and more. Some geneticists are physicians who treat patients suffering from genetic disorders. Others are full-time lab researchers who work on developing genetically modified organisms, gene therapies, and other DNA-related projects. Geneticists also work in such diverse fields as conservation of endangered species, crime solving, and bioethics. Considering the explosive growth of this all-encompassing field, it is a great time to be a geneticist. Geneticists need a Ph.D. in physical science or an M.D.
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Geneticist in Action
Title: Professor, Pediatrics, Howard University
Education: Ph.D., Human Genetics, Howard University
Many bioethicists focus on the ethical implications of technology. Dr. Charmaine Royal, however, is concerned with the ethics of experimental design and the applications and implications of biological research. Dr. Royal, who is a geneticist at the Human Genome Center of Howard University, points out that some scientists in the past tried to use genetic research to justify treating non-Caucasians as inferior. She also notes that although there is no biological basis for any meaningful differences among races, many African- Americans are still suspicious of genetic research. Many, for example, have been discriminated against when an insurance company or a prospective employer finds out they have sickle cell anemia, which is a relatively common genetic disorder in African-Americans.
Dr. Royal, who is Jamaican, wants to ensure that African-Americans are included and treated fairly in research studies, and that they receive the benefits of genetic screening and genetic counseling. In 1998 Dr. Royal helped start the African-American Hereditary Prostate Cancer Study, the first large-scale genetic study of African-Americans to be designed and carried out by an almost entirely African-American research team.