Genomics is the study of the structure, function, evolution and mapping of genomes. Genomes are the complete set of each organism’s genetic instructions, the DNA that allows it to develop and maintain itself. The genome contains chromosomes, which in turn contain genes. The genes contain the DNA that is the actual code of the instructions for the life form. The study of genes includes a number of disciplines that help researchers to understand and manipulate the DNA code that governs all living things.
How Genomics Is Used
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the chemical compound responsible for the development and activities of all living organisms. The molecule is made up of two strands that known as the double helix. Within the DNA strand is contained the four letter code that is used to build every living thing. Four nucleotide bases make up the strands. Adenine, cystosine, guanine and thymine are arranged in unique ways to produce the variations in living organisms and the ways in which they function to survive. Genomes are studied in order to understand the proteins that make up and sustain all these life forms. Although the field of study is relatively new, only about a decade old, a great deal of information has been compiled about how genes behave and what individual genes do. The study of genomics is generally divided into two categories:
- Structural genomics – this area of gene research attempts to discern the structure of a genome. The structure of genomes strongly determine how the genes function, based on where they are located and how the genes fold. This information is used to learn the general rules of the structure and function of all genomes.
- Comparative genomics – this area of study looks at how the DNA structure is related from one living creature to another. The work allows scientists to identify and predict certain regions of similar behavior within the DNA.
Gene sequencing is the process of determining how the nucleotide bases are arranged in a DNA strand. The most common method of sequencing used today is called sequencing by synthesis. A chosen strand of DNA is tagged with a fluorescent material to label it. Then, a compound called a DNA polymerase is used to generate a new strand from the chosen strand. In this way, a longer strand is produced from a short piece on the strand, allowing researchers to search for any variations that may occur as the new strand develops. This process can tell the researchers about the potential for diseases and other genetic information.
The Human Genome Project
The National Institutes of Health initiated the project known as the Human Genome Project, which sought to create a high-quality mapping of genes found in a composite from many individuals. The project provided access to the public of the information so that it could be used widely for research that would help to prevent disease and help find cures for many of the illnesses that are common in the human population.
How Genomics Is Used Today
The information that researchers have learned about the humane genome is already providing new methods of treating illnesses. Genomics currently provides genetic information that helps physicians, dentists, and their patients determine the best strategy to prevent and treat genetic illnesses. Pharmocogenomics combines pharmacology and genetics to find the best medications that will help individual patients recover from illnesses. These treatments will allow faster, more effective treatments that reduce recovery time for patients. Stem cell therapies are currently used to treat blood and bone marrow diseases. These treatments are just the beginning of the new landscape of medical care the will involve the use of genomics.
Future Uses of Genomics
Stem cell therapy offers a new area of medical treatment for individuals with serious diseases or catastrophic injuries. The ability of stem cells to develop into the cells of various organs gives them enormous potential for restoring normal function to those who have been affected by a variety of diseases. In the future, individuals who have been in severe accidents or soldiers injured in combat will be able to receive new organs that allow them to live normal productive lives. Cloning will help individuals with reproductive problems, and is being investigated to improve livestock production. Science can only guess at the many ways that knowledge of the human genome will be used to improve and enhance life.
In the future, the field of genomics promises to bring a greater understanding of how genes function and how they can be manipulated for improving human health and better quality of life for mankind. The research will continue to expand into other areas of the biological sciences to provide a greater understanding of how the genome evolves and adapts to changing conditions.
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