Department of Genetics
Genetics is the study of the structure, function, organization and control of genes and of the heritability of traits. It is a complete and internally consistent way of understanding living things that is parallel to a biochemical view or a structural view of life. All three of these disciplines feed upon and illuminate each other. If we knew nothing about metabolism within cells or the structure of nucleic acids or proteins, there would still exist a genetics of living things.
Genetics is the fundamental molecular and mechanistic tool for dissecting complex biological phenomena, from vertebrate development to biological clocks to animal behavior, and any world class department of genetics must have members who use genetics prospectively to solve what remain as great questions in biology. The fundamental insight that all living systems share the same macromolecules and metabolic pathways has united genetic studies of bacteria, yeast, worms, flies, mice, and humans, so research in all systems is truly synergistic. In past decades, genetics has relied chiefly on the analysis of single traits and single genes, whether by looking at the effects of a single mutation on the expression of these genes or by looking at the evolutionary changes of these genes over time. However, with the availability of genomic sequences and DNA array analysis, genetics is moving from the analysis of a few genes to analysis of changes in the expression of each element of an entire genome. Descriptions of entire genomes are now appearing regularly in the literature, and the genome sequences of numerous bacteria and of S. cerevisiae, C. elegans, D. melanogaster, M. musculus, and H. sapiens are either completed or rapidly nearing completion. DNA microarray technology now allows automated, detailed study of the levels of all gene transcripts in a cell or tissue, both as an organism develops and its cells differentiate and in the health and disease of a fully-formed organism. This technology, applied to human tissue samples and to various genetic models, will rapidly increase our understanding of diseases, most of which are complex and multigenic. Transgenic and knockout methodologies are now available for almost all the major genetic organisms listed above, allowing a new era in exploring the physiological role of each gene. Similarly, we will increasingly understand evolutionary genetics and population genetics through the study of genomes and co-evolving parts of genomes rather than of only single genes.
In medicine, it has only been in the final quarter of the last century that the magnitude of the contribution of our genes to our well-being has begun to be appreciated. The scope of the contribution that genetics will play in terms of understanding, diagnosing and treating disease in the 21st century is comparable to that of physiology and biochemistry in this century. However, while the genetic dissection of complex phenomena requires prospective analysis, the maturation of human genetics has driven the need for retrospective genetics - beginning from a variant phenotype (whether metabolic or behavioral) and using genetic tools and genetic precepts to analyze and understand the molecular basis of the variation. Thus will such challenging problems as behavior (whether variant or normal) and cognition be addressed. Do we propose to do this all at Dartmouth? No, but we do propose to make major contributions to creating new methodologies and to solving significant problems. We are at the beginning of the Golden Age of Biology, and Dartmouth has a role to play in the drama.
The central mission of this department is research excellence. We seek to build this department through the identification and recruitment of junior and established scientists who think genetically - who share with us an enjoyment of and commitment to approaching biological problems using the tools and precepts of genetics. We seek colleagues who use genetics now and will continue to use genetics in the future. We expect that individual scientists will be able to compete very effectively for research funding; this is something at which we excel here at Dartmouth. From this base, true excellence will arise from the dynamics of the group of faculty and students that will call this their home department.