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Department of Genetics

Pt 2s in class Kay foreground 590

What is Genetics?

Genetics is the science of heredity: why you resemble your parents and other members of the human race, but also why you are recognisably different from them in many respects. Genetics attempts to understand not only how like begets like within a species, but also how and why differences between individuals and between species arise.

The Scope of Genetics

Genes carry the information which largely determines what you are and how you function in the environment. As we learn more about how genes work in different organisms, we find that this knowledge and understanding is fundamental to each and every area of biological study. Our increasing knowledge of the organisation and function of the human genome is having profound effects on the understanding and treatment of disease. Genetics helps us to understand evolution and speciation, and genetically engineered micro-organisms have the potential to be the industrial units of the future. Finally, genetics underpins most programmes in animal and plant breeding for agriculture, even the production of the much-maligned genetically-manipulated plants!

Genetics at Cambridge

Genetics forms an integral part of many first and second year courses in the Natural Sciences Tripos in Cambridge. Genetics is taught in the first year courses Biology of Cells and Evolution and Behaviour, and the basic knowledge required in these courses can be extended in the second year courses on Cell and Developmental Biology, Evoloution & Animal Diversity and Mathematical and Computational Biology. The Department also contributes to the teaching of the Molecules in Medical Science course in the Medical Science Tripos.

In the third year the Part II course in Genetics gives a broad education in all aspects of genetics, and how these relate not only to biological problems but also to many areas of human experience.

What this means in practice is that in order to study for an Undergraduate Degree in Genetics at the University of Cambridge, you should apply to a College to undertake the Natural Sciences Tripos, and ideally study some or all of the courses mentioned above in the first and second years, specialising in Genetics in your third year [Part II]. However, it is possible to approach the study of Genetics in Part II via other routes. Medical and Veterinary Sciences students can also elect to study Genetics in their third year.

Because applying to Cambridge is rather different than applying to most other universities, it is essential that you are well-informed about the procedures and deadline dates. More information can be found on the following web pages:

Part II Genetics

More detailed information about the third year undergraduate Genetics course can be found here.

What subjects do I need at A Level?

Biology teaching in Cambridge is arranged to cope with students who have little or no previous experience of biology during their school career, and although it is obviously an advantage if you have A Level Biology, many students who have not done biology before university end up specialising in one or other of the biological sciences.

As for other A Level subjects, Chemistry is the most useful, and Maths and Physics are also recommended subjects. Entry to Cambridge is obviously highly competitive, and applicants taking three or more science or mathematics A levels will normally be asked by colleges for grades at A*A* A. You should always check the Admissions Office website for up-to-date information.

If you are studying for qualifications other than A Levels, the relevant pages of the undergraduate prospectus, available to view on the web at should help.