Science is all about precision. Two things may seem the same at first glance, but we see that nuance makes them different when we dive deeper. This is the case with the difference between genetics and heredity.
We often see genetics and heredity used almost interchangeably. For example, one teacher may teach a genetics unit, while another will teach a heredity unit. However, the material covered in each unit is virtually the same.
The Difference Between Genetics and Heredity
So, what is the difference between genetics and heredity? Genetics is the study of heredity, including the variation of inherited traits. Heredity is the process of passing traits from parents to offspring. This seems needlessly complicated, but it results from how our language has evolved over the years.
Heredity is a much older word than genetics. Etymologists, people who study the history of words, estimate that the word heredity first appeared in the 1530s from either French or Latin origins. However, it wasn’t used as a scientific word until 1863. Herbert Spencer, an English biologist, used it to describe his work on the inheritance of traits. Heredity was a common interest at the time because just two years later, Mendel was working on his study of the heredity of pea plants.
Perhaps the biggest difference between genetics and heredity is the age of the words. William Bateson, another English biologist, was the first person to use the word genetics to describe Mendel’s work. Four years later, Wilhelm Johannsen, a Danish botanist and fellow Mendel-supporter, used the word gene to describe the units of heredity Mendel had discovered. Both genetics and gene come from the Greek root genos, which means birth.
So, heredity is the process of passing along genetic information, and genetics is the study of that process. The difference between these two terms is an example of the precision scientists use to describe the world around them.
Are You Teaching Genetics?
Click on either image to check out my question and answer activity to help students learn about genetics and heredity. Students are given links to reputable resources to answer questions that will build their background knowledge on genetics.
ARE YOU TEACHING SCIENCE?
I am working on creating more science units so that every science teacher can get exactly what he or she needs for her students. You can also read about how I use brain science to teach other science topics on my blog. Click the pictures below to learn more.