Let’s Talk: Population Genetics!

What is population genetics?

Population genetics is a field of genetics that considers changes in genetic variations within populations over time: in the past, present, and, through predictive mathematical models, the future. It combines concepts from genomics and evolutionary biology to examine phenomena such as adaptation. Population genetics holds enormous potential for advancing cancer research as population geneticists can screen for and decipher factors that may contribute to the development of cancer within a population of individuals. They can also better understand the dynamics of cancer evolution by studying the population dynamics of cancer cells within a tumour or individual.

What does it take to be a population geneticist?

Population genetics combines concepts from multiple disciplines in order to interpret patterns at a broad, population level. As such, population geneticists require a strong background in genetics, mathematics, and statistics. Most positions require a Masters or PhD in a life science or engineering field; more senior roles, such as lead scientist or professor, will require a PhD.

Population genetics involves research, the discovery of new information, and application of that information to understand, for example, which populations might benefit most from a drug or be more susceptible to a certain disease. Population genetic models may also be used to predict higher risk areas and, therefore, better plan healthcare infrastructure to address those needs.

Where is the field of population genetics headed?

Population genetics began with Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel in the 1800s and continues to evolve as the technologies that enable its study evolves over time. Advances in genomics have resulted in the generation of massive quantities of data from people around the world. In an age of big data and information theory, we can only expect to see larger influxes of data, and population genetics can be used to develop population-based modelling approaches and to further our understanding of diseases and how they vary across different people.

LET’S TALK: genetics!