What is Genomics

DNA

Genomics is a study of the genomes of organisms. It main task is to determine the entire sequence of DNA or the composition of the atoms that make up the DNA and the chemical bonds between the DNA atoms. Knowledge of the DNA sequence has become an important part of biological research but it is also of vital importance in other research disciplines including medicine, biotechnology, forensic, etc.

Genomics should not be confused with genetics. It is a study of the functions of single genes which shows a great potential in medicine and molecular biology as well. The field of genomics is interested in genome as a whole structure and investigates a single genome only if it is important for the genome as a structure. Genomics can therefore also be defined as a study of the complete genetic material of an organism.

History of genomics dates back to the 1970s when the scientists determined the DNA sequence of simple organisms. The greatest breakthrough in the field of genomics occurred in the mid-1990s when the scientists sequenced the entire genome of Haemophilus influenzae, a free-living organism which, however, does not cause influenza. The bacterium was thought to be the cause of flu until 1933 when it was proven that influenza is caused by a virus. In 2001, the scientists sequenced most of the human genome. Since then, genomes are being sequenced with relative ease. By the end of 2011, scientists sequenced genomes of over 2,700 viruses, more than 1,200 bacteria and archaea and 36 eukaryotes about 50 percent of which are fungi.

Scientists get a number of highly useful information from sequenced DNA of organisms. But what is most important of all, they allow the scientists to determine the relationships between the genes and different sections of DNA which in turn allows them to determine which areas could offer benefits to science as well as make the knowledge useful for medical applications.

Genomic research projects over the last few decades gave rise to several research areas in the study of genomes. The main genomics research areas include:

Human genomics. Like its name suggests, human genomics is focused on studying the human genome sequence. Human DNA was sequenced by the Human Genome Project, an international scientific research project in 2001 but the human genome sequence was proclaimed completed only in 2007.

Bacteriophage genomics. It refers to the study of bacteriophage genomes or genomics of viruses which infect bacteria and are considered as a possible alternative for treatment of illnesses that are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Metagenomics. It is a study of metagenomes or genetic material which is obtained from environmental samples rather than from cultivated cultures. Metagenomics has revolutionized the understanding of microbial world and shown that the traditional cultivation techniques have missed the majority of microbial diversity.

Cyanobacteria genomics. This field of genomic research is concentrated on study of cyanobacteria, a phylum of bacteria which get energy through photosynthesis.

Pharmacogenomics. This branch of genomics studies the impact of genetic variation on a drug’s efficacy and toxicity, and plays an important role in optimization of drug therapy.