What Does an Animal Geneticist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Bailey Mariner © The Balance 2019 

Animal geneticists are involved with studying genes and improving the heritability of desired traits—such as increased milk production in dairy cattle or higher carcass weight in beef cattle—in animal populations.

Animal Geneticist Duties & Responsibilities

Animal geneticists may focus on many areas within the field, and specific duties can vary widely depending on the nature of the geneticist’s type of employment. Generally, the job can require the ability to perform the following duties:

  • Develop selective breeding programs
  • Study and analyze pedigrees
  • Conduct genetic research or lab tests
  • Develop strategies to improve heritability of desirable traits
  • Study population genetics
  • Map the genomes of various species
  • Report and communicate genetic trends

In general, animal geneticists work to understand how genes affect traits such as growth, behavior, reproduction, and immunity. They regularly use laboratory equipment, DNA scanners, and a variety of software applications to conduct their research and analyze genetic data.

Animal geneticists may find work with a variety of employers such as animal production facilities, pharmaceutical companies, private corporations, research labs, zoos, hatcheries, the federal government, or colleges and universities.

A large percentage of animal geneticists focus on working with livestock species, particularly cattle and poultry, but some also work with domestic and wild species. The aquaculture industry is a particularly strong source of jobs for animal geneticists as it continues to show explosive growth.

Animal Geneticist Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate out salary data for animal geneticists, but it does include them as a part of the more general categories of animal scientists.

  • Median Annual Salary: $58,530 ($28.07 per hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $113,430 ($54.53 per hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $36,270 ($17.44 per hour)

The BLS reports that the top paying industries for animal scientists by mean annual wage include the federal government ($115,160), merchant wholesalers ($112,580), and animal food manufacturing ($105,380).

Education, Training, & Certification

The first step to becoming an animal geneticist involves completion of a bachelor’s degree in genetics or a closely related field such as animal science, dairy science, biology, conservation biology, or a similar area. Graduate degrees are usually required for most positions in the field of genetics and are mandatory for positions in academia or senior-level research.

  • Education: Undergraduate coursework includes genetics, reproduction, laboratory science, livestock production, biology, chemistry, and statistics. After graduation, the aspiring geneticist usually pursues a graduate degree (master’s or doctorate) that is concentrated on a particular area of interest. Graduate level studies usually involve advanced-level coursework in specialization areas, as well as laboratory research and publication of a scientific research thesis.
  • Experience: Animal geneticists should have a strong background in working with computers and laboratory equipment, as these tools are routinely used in genetics research. 

Animal Geneticist Skills & Competencies

To be successful in this role, you’ll generally need the following skills and qualities:

  • Communication skills: Animal geneticists must explain their findings and the implications of those findings.
  • Data analysis skills: People in this role must be able to analyze the data they collect from their genetic research to help find solutions in their area of work.
  • Technical skills: They must be able to use laboratory equipment, DNA scanners, and a variety of software applications.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects that employment for animal scientists, in general, will grow at about the same rate as the overall employment growth for all occupations in the country through 2026, which is 7 percent.

Work Environment

Animal geneticists usually work in a laboratory setting as they conduct their research, though some may travel to animal production facilities to view and evaluate breeding stock in person.

Work Schedule

Animal geneticists usually work full time during regular business hours. Exact hours will depend on specialty.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People who are interested in becoming animal geneticists may also consider other careers with these median salaries: