What is genomics?
Genome: An organism’s complete set of genetic information
Genomics is an interdisciplinary field that combines biology, math, and computer science to study the comprehensive effects of genetic factors at the individual and population level. Whereas genetics can focus on single genes, genomics examines an organism’s complete set of genetic information. A benefit of genomics is that by looking at the entire genome, we not only understand the role individual genes play in our biological composition but also how these genes interact with one another. Owing to the study of genomics, health professionals are now better able to diagnose diseases and determine the best course of treatment for individuals based on their unique genetic profiles. A significant milestone in the field was the Human Genome Project, wherein scientists across the world collaborated to determine the full sequence of base pairs making up human DNA and to map out all the genes found within the human genome. However, to date, the function of many genes remains largely unknown, and there is still a lot left for genomics to uncover.
What does it take to be a genomic scientist?
While an undergraduate degree in genetics, or a related field, is necessary, having a Masters or PhD is a strong asset and may be a requirement for many positions. The data-intensive nature of genomics means that having a strong computational background is particularly advantageous. A career in genomics could involve sequencing DNA to identify genetic variations and mutations, conducting genome wide association studies, which involves scanning sequenced genomes from multiple people to identify predictive genetic markers for diseases, and researching ways to improve diagnostics for a variety of diseases, including cancer.
Where is the field of genomics headed?
Genomic studies generate and analyze large amounts of data. Rapid technological advancements, and an ever-increasing understanding of the effects of genetics and the environment on diseases, continue to further our understanding of the genomic landscape of diseases such as cancer. Artificial intelligence approaches show promise in further revolutionizing the genomics industry, with computational approaches allowing us to rapidly process and draw patterns and predictions from large amounts of genomic data.
Advancements in genomics have allowed genomic studies to become cheaper and more widely available to the general public, and the current trend shows that this is only going to become more affordable in the future. In recent years many companies, such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA, have emerged and offer their genomic analysis services to the average consumer for relatively affordable prices.