Jobs in Agricultural Genetics & Breeding
Animal and crop genetics can make a big difference when it comes to producing the highest-quality food products for the lowest price possible.
Working in crop genetics is all about crossbreeding different varieties to create seeds that are optimal in some way. For example, some plant genetic researchers create seeds that are resistant to certain diseases or that can resist pesticides that kill the weeds around them. Crops can also be genetically altered to produce bigger fruits, seedless varieties, or more flavorful products.
Genetic work in the animal world is much more varied. First, you can work as a breeder or work on a farm that specifically focuses on breeding. Breeders deal with one type of animal, and often a single breed. Workers are responsible for tracking animal ovulation cycles, recording pedigree information, collecting semen from males, inseminating females, caring for pregnant animals, and helping with the birthing process. Animals that are well bred can sell for thousands of dollars, whereas an animal of the same species that isn't well bred may be sold for just a fraction of the cost.
Some characteristics can be bred with near certainty, while other characteristics are still elusive. While breeders deal with the known, researchers deal with the unknown. They study animals to learn how to bred the top specimens. Today, for example, chickens grow much larger in a shorter time, due to breeding, as well as research on feed and how it affects an animal's health.
This is also an important part of working in genetics - learning how an animal's environment (food, hormones, medications, living conditions, etc.) change the breed. The focus on this job is to create the best product possible, and in some cases those who work with crops work in conjunction with those who work with animals.
There is some resistance to genetic manipulation. Many consumers, for example, will no longer purchase beef from cattle that were injected with growth hormone due to health risks, and animal cruelty is an issue when they grow so large so quickly that their legs can't hold them up or their quality of life is otherwise diminished. On the other hand, genetically altering farm products can be a good thing. For example, seeds have been created to thrive with less water, helping to eliminate world hunger in drought-prone areas.
If you want to work in genetics, you may or may not need a degree. Many breeders hire farmhands without education in the area, and instead prefer workers with on-the-job experience. Top research positions, however, require at least a bachelor's degree, and many facilities that hire candidates with advanced degrees in agricultural genetics.