An APA working group is exploring ways to help psychologists take advantage of the enormous opportunities in genetics research.

The APA Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) Working Group on Genetics Research Issues, chaired by the University of Colorado's John K. Hewitt, PhD, will convene its first meeting in November. Group members hope to have some recommendations by early next year for programs that would help psychologists become active soon afterward.

"The knowledge genetics research is developing provides a great opportunity for new research directions that cut across traditional subject boundaries," says Hewitt, who trained first as a psychologist and then went back for training in genetics. "Unfortunately, the typical curriculum for psychology training does not prepare psychologists to take full advantage of the opportunity."

By that, Hewitt means the typical lack of training in biology and specifically in genetics. One idea to deal with this lack of training, says Johns Hopkins University's Nancy Ator, PhD--one of several BSA members who championed the working group--is for APA to develop an Advanced Training Institute in genetics to give psychologists the background they need to move into genetics-related areas.

"At present the number of psychologists working in these areas is unduly modest," says Ator. "Yet, experimental psychologists, with their intensive focus on sophisticated behavior analysis, appropriate control of environment and history, and understanding of potentially confounding variables, are particularly well-trained and experienced for tackling this work."

Add to that training in genetics, and psychologists could be unstoppable. In fact, says Ator, providing psychologists knowledge about and training in genetics should create new research niches. For example, molecular biologists have been working with transgenic and knockout mice strains--mice that have specific genes inserted or deleted. There's a great need for researchers who develop, apply and interpret behavioral tests on these animals to see how the changes in their genes affect their behavior. Such work will not only "contribute to research on diseases for which these mouse strains are being developed, but also to initiatives by psychologists to understand the genetic determinants of learned and innate behavior," says Ator.

There are equally big roles for psychologists to play in work with humans, says Hewitt, who is in constant demand from psychologists and geneticists to provide a bridge between the worlds of behavior and genetics.

The hope is that the APA working group will develop mechanisms to help prepare psychologists to participate in this new world, says Ator.

--B. AZAR