Because genes and their products control every aspect of the life and death of any cell type Genetics as a discipline covers areas of biology as diverse as DNA stability, embryonic development, cell and organ functions in all organisms ranging from bacteria to human. The ambition of our Department, stated in its name and exemplified by the variety of research interests of its faculty, is to identify genes and delineate genetic pathways involved in the three areas cited above in eukaryotes.
At the core of Genetics there is a need to better understand DNA dynamics, the molecular bases of cell division and proliferation, and the biology of RNA. From its inception this has been one of the strengths of the Department and this line of research is still flourishing. Its findings contribute to improve our understanding of malignant transformation of cells and therefore strengthen our interaction with the Cancer Center.
When applying concepts of genetics to study complex organisms such as flies or mice, two events occurred in the last twenty years to trigger a tremendous expansion of the genetic approach in developmental biology. The first one was the realization that, in a large number of cases, regulatory genes affecting developmental processes in nematodes and flies fulfill similar functions in vertebrates. The second event was the emergence of a growing arsenal of techniques allowing investigators to delete or to influence the expression of specific genes in invertebrates and in mice. Together these two events explain why developmental biology has blossomed in the Department.
The advance of Genetics, both in technical and conceptual terms are so profound that it now affects our understanding of cell and organ physiology. Indeed, over the years the technological arsenal allowing gene deletion or knock down has become increasingly sophisticated making it possible to inactivate any given gene in a specific cell type and at a specific time in the mouse. As a result one can now address fundamental questions of cell biology aside of embryonic development that were beyond our reach until recently. Among them one can cite: which genes determine cell size and functions? Do we know all the functions of a given cell type? If not, can we identify these novel functions and the genetic pathways accounting for them? The ambition of this type of work is to uncover novel physiological paradigms that would at term affect our understanding of degenerative diseases in humans.
In all these areas of biology we are still at the beginning of the Genetic Revolution and our Department intends to continue to expand its contribution to this enterprise in the foreseeable future. To achieve this goal our Department’s graduate program aims at attracting talented and ambitious young scientists who firmly believe that there is much more to discover in DNA dynamics, Developmental Biology and Molecular Physiology than what is already known. Every faculty member of the program contributes actively to this program and is willing to welcome students as we all see graduate education as a central part of the mission of the Department.
Gerard Karsenty, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Genetics & Development