Genomics, in a nutshell, is the study of genomes.
But what’s a genome? Each living thing is programmed into being by its genes. All of an organism’s genetic information combined is called its genome. So when we study a genome, we study all of the genetic data for a particular living thing, and we can go on to study how the genes interact with each other and the environment.
This is why genomics research is so valuable; it helps us understand how and why genes do what they do. More importantly, it provides insight into how we might harness this knowledge for things like treating disease or growing crops that require less of our precious natural resources.
As a field of study, genomics deals with enormous amounts of information. Humans, for example, have over 3 billion base pairs of sequence information – that’s a lot of data to review and process. As computing power continues to escalate, so does our ability to manage and interpret genomics data.
The Basics of Genes and DNA
Our Education Section has much more information on genes, DNA and more, but for a short and simple overview, read on.
DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is a chemical concoction found in every living thing, and is known for its double helix shape. Within DNA, there are four distinct chemicals; adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine – or A,C, G and T, for short. The order of these chemicals, and how they match with each other, creates the code that dictates the form and function of the organism. It’s like a word find puzzle, where all the letters are thrown together, but if you look closely, you can find words. For example:
let’s go together or
let’s go to get her
Small sections of this code are called genes. Genes provide the instructions for what proteins are to be produced. Proteins make up the tissues, tissues make up organs, organs make up organ systems and organ systems make up an organism. When sequence information is altered, proteins aren’t created properly and disease or malformation can result in the organism.
One of the truly amazing things is that genes (DNA that codes for proteins) and non-coding DNA - which comprises 3 billion base pairs in humans – are all packed into virtually every individual cell in the organism and in humans we have close to 100 trillion cells!
The web is full of great information, articles and explanations of the themes related to genomics. The following provide a few places to start:
Epigenomics Why cells are different when they all have the same DNA inside them.
Human Genome Project Everything you ever wanted to know about human genes and the Human Genome Project
History of genomics A brief look at the development of this exciting new field of study.