Genetics (GEN)

This is an archived copy of the 2017-2018 catalog. To access the most recent version of the catalog, please visit

Degrees Offered: Ph.D., M.S.

This program is offered in Durham.

The Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Biomedical Sciences offers an accelerated master's program (B.S./M.S.), a master's of science, and a doctor of philosophy degree in genetics, providing outstanding and diverse research opportunities in genetics and genomics. Graduate students in genetics are typically supported by teaching or research assistantships, as well as by competitive internal and external fellowship programs. For more information about the program, including admission and degree requirements, please contact the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Biomedical Sciences at

Distinctive Features of the Program

As an interdisciplinary program made up of faculty from multiple departments, and from the Hubbard Center for Genome Studies, the genetics program integrates disciplines ranging from molecular and cellular biology to environmental and evolutionary genetics and genomics. These faculty conduct research on living systems spanning microbial, plant, and animal systems. Incoming students have the opportunity for laboratory rotations to explore the various areas of genetics and genomics in those cases where a thesis advisor has not been identified or where exposure to a variety of experimental approaches is advantageous.

The Graduate Program in Genetics offers:

  • Outstanding research training in many cutting-edge research areas in molecular and evolutionary genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics.
  • Weekly seminar series that includes both distinguished invited speakers and graduate student research presentations.
  • Opportunities to gain teaching and mentoring experiences with undergraduate students in the biological sciences.
  • Strong track record for graduates attaining successful careers in academia, biomedical research institutes, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, and state and federal governmental agencies.

Admission Requirements

An applicant is expected to have completed basic courses in chemistry, biological sciences, mathematics, and physics. Otherwise well-qualified applicants will be permitted to correct deficiencies in undergraduate education by enrollment in the appropriate courses or by independent study during the first year. Applicants must submit a personal statement, current scores (within five years) from the general GRE test, and three letters of recommendation. If possible, the personal statement should specify the applicant's research interests and potential faculty mentors. International applicants living outside the U.S. should initially complete a free online pre-application. If approved for a full application, applicants must submit current TOEFL scores in addition to the items listed above.

5 Year Accelerated Master's Degree Requirements

This accelerated five-year program leading to a combined bachelor and master's degree in genetics is designed for highly motivated and qualified students seeking additional training to further their career goals as a researcher in the life sciences.

Admission to the combined degree program is highly competitive. Students wishing to pursue this option must have a grade point average greater than 3.2 at the time of application. A thesis advisor must be identified during the junior year, and the approval of the advisor must be obtained. Prior to the first semester of the senior year, the student must formally apply through the Graduate School and receive early admission to the Genetics Graduate Program. The requirement for the Graduate Record Examination is waived for combined degree applicants.

Genetics (GEN)

GEN 804 - Genetics of Prokaryotic Microbes

Credits: 5

Maintenance, exchange, and expression of genetic material in bacteria and their viruses. Historical overview of the role microbial genetics played in development of modern molecular biology. Contemporary perspective on methods used to understand the function of genes and their applications to basic science, biomedical research, and biotechnology. Prereq: introductory microbiology with lab; introductory genetics; or permission. Lab. Special fee.

GEN 805 - Population and Quantitative Genetics

Credits: 4

Exploration of the forces (mutation, selection, random drift, inbreeding, assortative mating) affecting the frequency and distribution of allelic variation in natural populations. Quantifying the structure of populations. Analysis of continuous variation in populations simultaneously at multiple loci. Interactions between genes and their environment underlying phenotypic variation. Methods of analysis for theoretical and practical applications. Prereq: introductory genetics; introductory statistics; one semester college calculus. Computer Lab.

GEN 806 - Human Genetics

Credits: 4

Genetic basis of human traits and diseases including both traditional methods of diagnosis and contemporary molecular genetic approaches stemming from the human genome project. Case studies exemplify common practices in human genetic counseling and integrate the scientific basis of diagnosis with the special ethical implications of human genetic analysis. Prereq: introductory genetics or permission.

GEN 811 - Genomics and Bioinformatics

Credits: 4

Methods, applications, and implications of genomics—the analysis of whole genomes. Microbial, plant and animal genomics are addressed. Medical, ethical and legal implications of genomic data. Computer lab provides exposure and experience in a range of bioinformatics approaches used in genome analysis. Prereq: introductory genetics. Computer lab.

GEN 812 - Introduction to Programming for Bioinformatics

Credits: 4

Development of programming skills that enable life science students to ask fundamental biological questions that require computers to automate repetitive tasks and handle query results efficiently. Topics include: computer values of important parameters of biological sequence data; pattern search and motif discovery scripts; accessing, querying, manipulating, retrieving, parsing, analyzing, and saving data from local and remote databases. Prereq: introductory genetics or permission.

GEN 813 - Microbial Ecology and Evolution

Credits: 4

Evolutionary and ecological forces that generate the tremendous diversity of microbial life of Earth with emphasis on viruses, archaea and bacteria. Functional roles of microorganisms, their population dynamics and interactions, and their mechanisms of evolutionary change in a variety of environmenal settings, including natural communities and laboratory microcosms. Prereq:introductory genetics; introductory microbiology and lab; or permission.

GEN 815 - Molecular Evolution

Credits: 4

Rates and patterns of evolutionary change in biomolecules. Forces affecting the size and structure of genomes. Molecular mechanisms of organismal evolution. Emphasizes integrating evidence from biochemistry, molecular genetics and organismal studies. Methods for reconstructing phylogeny from molecular sequences. Prereq: introductory genetics. Some knowledge of statistics recommended. Computer lab.

GEN 817 - Molecular Microbiology

Credits: 5

Fundamental physiological and metabolic processes of archaea bacteria and fungi with a strong emphasis on prokaryotes. Literature-based course with lab. Topics include regulation of and coordination of microbial metabolism, bacterial cell cycle, global control of gene expression, signal transduction, and microbial cell differentiation. Prereq: introductory microbiology and lab; introductory genetics; or permisison. Special fee. Lab.

GEN 821 - Comparative Genomics

Credits: 4

Explores the central questions and themes in contemporary comparative genomics, including genome biology, phylogenomics, human origins, population genomics, and ecological genomics. Provides the conceptual framework required to evaluate new work in this fast-changing field. Prereq: introductory genetics.

GEN 871 - Molecular Genetics

Credits: 4

Structure, organization, replication, dynamics, and expression of genetic information in eukaryotes. Focus on molecular genetic and epigenetic mechanisms of gene expression and its control; molecular genetic control of cell division and differentiation during development. Prereq: introductory genetics.

GEN 872 - Evolutionary Genetics of Plants

Credits: 4

Mechanisms of genetic change in plant evolution, both in nature and under human influence. Topics include neo-Darwinian theory; speciation and hybridization; origins and co-evolution of nuclear and organelle genomes; gene and genome evolution transposable elements; chromosome rearrangements; polyploidy; genetic modification. Lab introduces methods in information gathering, bioinformatics, genome analysis, plant breeding, and genetic manipulation. Prereq: introductory genetics. Lab. Special fee.

GEN 874 - Techniques in Plant Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology

Credits: 4

Theory and hands-on experience with techniques used in plant genetic engineering, including cell and tissue culture, gene cloning, and analysis of foreign gene expression. Discussion of role of plant biotechnology in sustainable agriculture and climate change; modifying plants for better nutrition and stress response, environmental remediation, and for production of pharmaceuticals; controversies associated with this technology. Lab. Special fee. Prereq: introductory genetics or permission.

GEN 895 - Special Topics

Credits: 1-4

GEN 899 - Master's Thesis

Credits: 1-10

May be repeated up to a maximum of 10 credits. Cr/F.

GEN 995 - Special Topics

Credits: 2-4

Intended for study in specialty areas not ordinarily included in other courses. May involve formal classes, discussions, or independent investigations. Prereq: permission.

GEN 999 - Doctoral Research

Credits: 0