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Thread: Genetics and Math

  1. #1 Genetics and Math 
    Forum Ph.D. verzen's Avatar
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    Does working in the genetic field require a lot of math? If so, what type of math is actually used in the field? Or is it more so observation?


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  3. #2  
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    There was one class, I didn't take it, called mechanisms of evolution. Half the class was like DNA protein this, ACTG that...but the second half was all math. It was a full year course, so it definately was a semester filled of math.

    I heard horror stories of the math portion from my friends in similar programs to me.


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    Population genetics is largely maths.

    Here is a course description for population genetics, from Google:

    There are two aspects of this course that sometimes cause students problems.

    1. Geneticists think differently from most other biologists (and most other human beings, for that matter). They love monohybrid and dihybrid crosses, linkage, penetrance, dominance, and the like. We population geneticists are even worse. To explain things that you can see with your bare eyes, like phenotypic differences among individuals, we intoduce abstract concepts, like additive genetic variance, that are pure statistical artifacts that no one can see. By the time you finish this course, you'll not only have had a good review of basic Mendelian genetics (and even a little bit of molecular genetics), you'll be familiar with a bunch of new and fairly abstract genetic concepts. Just what you were looking for, right?


    2 Population genetics involves a fair amount of mathematics, probability theory, and statistics. That's because we deal with genetic variation in populations, which is measured in terms of gene and genotype frequencies. The phenomena of Mendelian genetics are themselves inherently statistical. So it shouldn't be surprising that when we apply these principles to a whole population the problems become even more mathematically involved.
    Population genetics was approximately 1/4 of the biology core when I took the courses at university years ago. The other three quarters were cell and molecular, genetics, and some introductory course if memory serves.
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  5. #4  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard i_feel_tiredsleepy's Avatar
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    Mostly Stats and Linear Algebra, I've never had to use calculus in a genetics class.
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  6. #5  
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    That depends on the area of genetics.

    Population genetics requires an extensive amount of math, in particular higher level statistics.

    This is also true to a lesser degree in genomic studies, where one may be doing transcriptional profiling of some sort, whether by microarray, RNA-seq, or some other method. The analysis of this data requires quite a bit of statistics as well.

    In fact, both those areas requires a large amount of statistical knowledge to set the experiments up properly in the first place and then analyze the data afterwards.

    On the other hand, those who work more in molecular genetics will use less math, particularly if you work on a model organism with a sequenced genome. In such cases, a lot of the basic tools will be already available and all one really needs is some basic statistics.

    However, if you are working on humans, say mapping disease genes in humans or something of the like, you will again need an extensive amount of statistics.

    My advice, if you want to enter into genetics, learn as much statistics as you can. Also learn calculus because this is necessary for higher level statistics. Even if you think you will never use it, you probably will one day.

    I'm very much a molecular biologist and never thought I would end up using so much stats, but now I find myself smack in the middle of some genomic studies and I'm having to relearn a lot of the statistics I forgot.
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    Also learn calculus because this is necessary for higher level statistics. Even if you think you will never use it, you probably will one day.
    I want to go into genetics because I'm good at Biology, not to learn math. I HATE mathhhhhhhhh. I'm only decent at Algebra...that's about it at this point. But I LOVE genetics and want to help cure cancer and AIDS. SH*T!!! (I don't know if profanity is allowed here)
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard paralith's Avatar
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    It is unfortunate that many students defer to biology simply because they think they can avoid math by doing so. As others have already stated, statistics is essential for good scientific research, no matter what your field is. However, as someone who doesn't highly enjoy math herself, I felt that when I took statistics classes that were framed in reference to scientific research, the material was much easier to swallow. So don't let your fear of it stop you.

    For anyone interested in population or cladistic genetics, I'd like to add that in the future it will be more and more beneficial for you to have experience in computer programming as well. The high level statistical and probability modeling that will inevitably be used to analyze the increasing amount of complex genetic data available will be done by computer programs, and that will require collaboration between a knowledge of genetics and a knowledge of progamming.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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    It is unfortunate that many students defer to biology simply because they think they can avoid math by doing so.
    That's not the reason I love Biology. I genuinely enjoy reading about research into disease and genetics (I also love neuropsych, on a sidenote). I didn't "defer" to anything...I love Biology. I will try my best to make it through the math classes, but I have never put much emphasis on math in the past and was happy to pass geometry with a C. I'm not deferring, I'm genuinely concerned that my lack of math skill could lead to me being forced to defer to something I'm less interested in..like Psychology...
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  10. #9  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard paralith's Avatar
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    lol. I said "many students," not "gottspieler." My apologies if you thought I meant you specifically, but I was referring to a general trend I've noticed in an unhappy number of bio students.

    Try to get into a course on research statistics. It varies per school of course, but when I took it, it really opened my eyes to the use of statistics in research, and made the whole enterprise much less intimidating than I had feared it to be. Using the math in reference to a subject you enjoy will make it easier.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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  11. #10  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    Chances are high you will never go beyond a simple t test ever in your scientific career.

    So don't fret.

    Just put some effort into the stats course and that usually is the end of any complicated statistics.

    Unless you like statistics of course. Then you can actively seek it out in your scientific career.
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  12. #11  
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    Spuriousmonkey
    Chances are high you will never go beyond a simple t test ever in your scientific career.

    So don't fret.

    Just put some effort into the stats course and that usually is the end of any complicated statistics.

    Unless you like statistics of course. Then you can actively seek it out in your scientific career.
    I would say that this is true only if he sticks strictly to molecular genetics and never hopes to venture beyond to any sort of genomic or population genetics studies.

    Otherwise, he will need to know something more than just you're basic student t test or else rely heavily on a statistician to do all the thinking.

    I for one prefer contributing more to the study then the raw data from experiments that were planned and analyzed by somebody else.

    I've seen a lot of people do a microarray, quantitative real-time pcr, or some other experiment that was poorly designed from the get go and then just as poorly analyzed by statistical methodologies that they did not understand. The end result is crap.

    If nothing else, they should advance their statistical knowledge so that they can understand and critically analyze those papers that utilize even the most basic statistics.

    You know whats interesting. Have an ecology student evaluate a more molecular/biochemical paper that uses some basic statistics. Then have someone of the molecular/biochemical bent analyze the same paper. Oftentimes the ecologist will not really grasp the experimentation, but I have seen them tear the paper apart based on nothing more than the statistics. The molecular biologist or biochemist will half the time not even pay attention to the statistics. The difference lies in the fact that many ecologists end up learning far more advanced statistics than the average molecular biologist. In a way it makes them a superior scientist.

    I think it is of utmost importance not to skimp on the statistics, even if you never actually needing it, it will force you to think in a critical manner and be less susceptible to poorly done research.
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  13. #12  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    Luckily molecular biology is a much larger field than population genetics. So that shouldn't be a problem.

    The biggest topic in biology is still cancer.

    So no worries.
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  14. #13  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard paralith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spuriousmonkey
    Luckily molecular biology is a much larger field than population genetics. So that shouldn't be a problem.

    The biggest topic in biology is still cancer.

    So no worries.
    Just because you can squeak by with the bare minimum doesn't mean you should; I think that's what chadn is really trying to say. You will be a better scientist overall if you incorporate a healthy understanding of statistics into your educational goals. I won't deny the reality that many practicing, wage-earning molecular biologists (of whom I am personally familiar with several) know very little statistics. Though I do think the work they have done suffers because of it; for example through a lack of appreciation for designing experiments that take into account the variation between individuals, etc.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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  15. #14  
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    Spuriousmonkey
    Luckily molecular biology is a much larger field than population genetics. So that shouldn't be a problem.

    The biggest topic in biology is still cancer.

    So no worries.
    The higher level statistics is used in far more fields than simply population genetics.

    As for cancer being the biggest field, a lot of cancer research involves genomics and proteomics. Each an area that requires some knowledge of statistics to make sense of the data or even to plan out the initial experiments.

    The traditional molecular biology approach will still be around and still be significant, but with the development of technologies like next gen sequencing and microfluidics and decreasing costs of these technologies this will continue to have an increasingly important role in these areas. Such large scale technologies demand a certain level of statistics to be conducted properly.

    Like I said earlier, I am very much the traditional molecular biologist. Initially I didn't see a significant need for the higher level statistics I had fortunately learned earlier on. Then, after a couple of more traditional approaches to my research failed, I found that the best approach was likely through genomics and proteomics. So here I am, refreshing myself on all the stats I had forgotten.

    And paralith hit the nail on the head. Even if you can squeak by on the bare minimum, should you really be doing that? As scientists we should strive to produce the best research possible. Given the continual number of papers that get retracted on one basis or another, I dare say we have an obligation to produce the best research in our ability. And also given the continued number of retracted papers, it is necessary that any good scientist be able to critically analyze every paper they read to ensure that they don't get fooled by fraudulent research. One of the toolkits for critical assessment of any sort of quantitative result is statistics.

    And finally, I would like to add how important statistics is in the field of cancer research. Its become a part of our popular knowledge that these days "everything causes cancer." Every other week the news reports a new link in cancer. The most recent I saw linked estrogen in certain body lotions to breast cancer.

    How does one judge the validity of such research without statistics when these studies are really nothing but statistical analysis of the risk from one compound or another?
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