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What do you do for a living?

I’m a statistical geneticist.

How would you describe what you do to someone?

I’m in charge of analyzing and delivering technology that implement DNA into an animal breeding program. I’m also responsible for describing genetics or identifying the uniqueness of different lines and different breeds of chickens that we have in the company.

What does your work entail?

My job entails a large portion of analysis so I would be in charge of analyzing genomic sequences where you sequence the genome of an animal and you analyze it for mutations that could be used to associate with certain traits.

We’ll sequence animals and we’ll look for things like positive selection, looking for evidence of say a selection event due to an altercation such as increased meat production in a chicken or increased milk production in a cow.

[The misconception is]That the work that we do is genetically modifying DNA or genetically engineering chickens and that we’re creating some Frankenstein chicken. There’s not a lot of monkeying around with any of that. We’re very interested in having the bird healthy and we’re not trying to do anything to them that is out of the ordinary.

We’ll look for the genome that has changed due to a positive selection. We’ll also sequence and genome type animals that are diseased.  So we’ll sequence or genome type the animals that die and the animals that survived and look for certain mutations that are specific to either population and see if those can be associated with that disease due to susceptibility.

We’re also doing a lot of gene mapping projects where we’ll look for certain genes involved with economic traits like feed efficiency.  We also look at environmental things that try to reduce the impact of farming on the environment such as nitrogen production so those would be some of the gene mapping things that we do.

Then we’ll also have to look at how chickens are all related to each other so wild ancestors like green jungle fowl that are all based in China and Indonesia and red jungle fowl, turkeys. We’ll look at how their genomes are arranged into chromosomes and how they’ve changed over time to see really how evolution is shaped with natural selection as opposed to domestication.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the impact on the environment, produce a better quality and more robust chicken. We’re trying to make one that is less susceptible to disease that has less issues and something that really reduces its ecological footprints on the Earth.

What’s a typical workweek look like for you?

Typically I’ll go in and I will do a lot of programming really. I’ll get info from various sources and external partners that do a lot of the lab work for us or from lab techs that we have in house.  So I don’t do a lot of lab work myself except on special occasions.  I analyze those data sets for quality control and remove any curious results or anything. We’ll then analyze the data and apply this to try and determine whether or not we’ve got genetics. I’m usually sitting in front of the computer, not too much lab work.

How did you get started in this career?

I started off with a basic biology degree. I then went on to conservation genetics which I found very interesting. Evolutionary genetics was something I was in to.  And then I got into working with domestic animals which allowed me to apply some of those same theories to a more relevant population.

What do you like about what you do?

It’s a challenging field. There’s a lot of advancing going on in genetics at the moment. It’s really changing from a lab-based discipline to more of an information science so you have to be multidisciplinary. You have to know interior programming. You have to know your basic biology and it allows you to ask questions that are fundamental how we change and how animals evolve, what happens when you apply certain pressures to animals and how animals adapt to environmental challenges or challenges by viruses.  The fact that it’s so intellectually stimulating really attracted me to it.

What do you dislike about it?

It can be fairly high pressure. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of people that can do the analysis so there’s a lot of work to be done and a pretty demanding work load so it can be fairly stressful at times.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the impact on the environment, produce a better quality and more robust chicken. We’re trying to make one that is less susceptible to disease that has less issues and something that really reduces its ecological footprints on the Earth.

How do you make money or how are you compensated in this job?

I’m a salaried employee and that comes with benefits and things like that.

How much money do you make as a geneticist?

I make $115,000 a year.

How much money did you make starting out?

When I first started my first job it was about $65,000 and then I probably when to $85,000 and now I’m making $114,000.

Are there any perks associated with this job?

A lot are overseas travel. You get to go to national and international conferences. You are paid pretty well and I think it’s good work.

What education or skills are needed to do be a geneticist?

Education would be a PhD in genetics or statistics or animal breeding.

As far as skills I would say probably computational—computer programming would be desired like programming in some sort of language like python or pearl, knowledge of the Linux operating system, statistics, and obviously a biology background.

What would you say is most challenging about what you do?

I’m working for a very large company you know that is pretty much in 50% of the world markets. The challenge in a field like genetics where your company is trying to swap their breeding program over from a traditional approach to a more modern approach is that things could go wrong quite quickly. If, for instance, the wrong gene is selected or say the genes that you identify in one population don’t seem to do the same thing in the next population and if people aren’t monitoring what’s happening very quickly on the ground you could quite rapidly shift the animals the wrong direction where they’re less healthy instead of more, or at least as healthy as they were.

You don’t really want to mess that up.

What would you say is most rewarding about what you do?

Well if everything works out accordingly then you’re responsible for changing the way that we breed animals and that has a very large impact on reducing the environmental impact and making food more accessible and potentially more affordable to people that are malnourished or in poor countries.  So that would have a big social impact and potentially an environmental one on the reduced impact on the environment associated with high production farming.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Do some work in companies that work in animal breeding or in genetics whether it be some summer work or volunteer work if possible. There’s always internships available so really proactive with that.  Going that extra yard will really put you ahead because a little bit of experience and getting to know people on a face-to-face in a very small industry like animal breeding is going to have a pretty big impact.

How much time do you get or take off in this job?

Pretty flexible, I get two weeks off per year but work it can be flexible with days off here and there as long as you get your work done.

What would you say is a common misconception people have about what you do?

That the work that we do is genetically modifying DNA or genetically engineering chickens and that we’re creating some Frankenstein chicken. There’s not a lot of monkeying around with any of that. We’re very interested in having the bird healthy and we’re not trying to do anything to them that is out of the ordinary.  We’re just trying to identify the bad genes that are associated with diseases or good genes associated with increased efficiency in the population.  Really all we’re doing is trying to identify what currently is in the bird and trying to essentially increase the frequency of that as they’ve done over thousands of years of traditional animal breeding. The only difference is that we’re becoming more accurate in our ability to identify which animal is the best and really increase the accuracy in which we carry out selection.

What are your goals and dreams for the future in this career?

To really change the way we do animal breeding, to further my knowledge, to challenge myself as far as science and as far as my career is concerned, to grow myself intellectually, and to make an impact on the breeding program.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

It’s a fun job, it’s challenging but there are a lot of rewards. It’s fun and you’ll have a blast.  Biologists and geneticists like to get down.

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