Genomics is a relatively new field of research, which began in earnest late in the twentieth century, although the basis of DNA was discovered more than a century earlier. The recent progressions made in genomics research have opened up exciting possibilities for genomics applications in other fields, some of which may offer health and medical benefits.
This article will cover a brief overview of past developments in genomics, the current objectives for research in the field, and possible future applications that may result from genomics research.
Past developments in genomics research
DNA was first identified in 1869 and published in a research paper in 1871. Over the next century, there were several developments to improve understanding of DNA, including that about chromosomal inheritance and the nucleotide bases DNA is composed of (adenosine, cytosine, guanine, thymine and uracil). The double helix structure of DNA and the “codon” of DNA that leads to the production of specific proteins were also discovered during this time.
However, the real progression in genomics research was set into motion when Frederick Sanger developed a sequencing technique for genomes in 1977. This opened up the possibility to manipulate the sequencing of DNA for scientific purposes.
The Human Genome Project is a significant research project in the field of genomics, which began in 1990. The project aimed to sequence all 3 billion nucleotide bases of the human genome within 15 years, though the project was finished two years ahead of schedule in 2003.
However, the discovery of the human genome sequence was really the first step in developing our understanding of the way that DNA is coded to provide human life. The next stage is to use the knowledge that has been acquired about DNA sequencing to derive meaningful solutions and applications. As a result, there are currently several research projects underway to develop on the current knowledge.
Aims of genomic research
At present, there are several objectives for genomic research, which include to:
- Determine the function of genes and other elements in the genome
- Identify DNA sequencing variations in humans and their effects
- Discover 3-dimensional protein structure
- Identify the function of different protein structures
- Explore the interaction between DNA and proteins in in vivo environments
- Sequence genomes of other organisms to make relevant comparisons
- Develop new technologies to enhance genomics research and increase efficiency of DNA sequencing
- Explore the ethical, legal and social issues associated with genomic research
Future applications from research
Continued progression in the field of genomics research could lead to substantial changes in the way that we understand health conditions and medical treatments.
For example, knowledge about particular differences in single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and the correlation to the risk of specific health conditions could help to target treatments to individuals who are at the highest risk of being affected. Additionally, these changes in SNPs could also predict the efficacy of a patient response to certain medical treatments.
Precision medicine is an emerging field in medicine that involves tailoring the patient medical plan to the genetic makeup of each individual, to improve treatment efficacy and reduce the risk of adverse effects.
Advancements in genomic research could help in making significant progression in the utility of precision medicine. It is also hoped that further research could help determine improved detection and diagnostic techniques for health conditions.
Reviewed by Afsaneh Khetrapal BSc (Hons)