11/19/2012 05:40 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2013

The Genomics Revolution

It is an exciting time for science! Technological advances, coupled with the shrinking cost of genome sequencing and analysis, characterize the genomics revolution. Because researchers are now able to sequence all the DNA of an organism, its genome, it is possible to compare the genomes of different organisms and populations. Genomics has opened doors to answer interesting questions about organisms that have been largely unstudied from a genetics standpoint.

The genomics revolution has a direct impact on how we study how humans evolved, how species adapt to new environments, and how individuals and tumors will react to drugs. We are already seeing that personalized genomic medicine is becoming a reality, with clinical decisions based on genomic information. By knowing the genomics of patients and their tumors, scientists are now able to make some treatment decisions based on whether a drug will be ineffective or toxic. The goal is to expand this knowledge to additional patient populations, and diseases. Genomics has also provided a new opportunity to study recent human evolution. Researchers have been able to sequence the genome from DNA extracted from tiny fragments of bone from a Neanderthal, and compare it to DNA from different human populations. The comparison between human and Neanderthal DNA revealed the genomes are at least 99.5 percent similar to each other, depending on the human population used for comparison. Moreover, the studies revealed some human populations have a small fraction of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes

In addition to looking back at human history, genomics allows researchers to understand how we and other species are responding to an ever-changing environment. Questions about how our climate and planet are changing and how organisms are responding to these new pressures, both immediately and over longer time scales, can now potentially be addressed at the genetic level. We can combine extensive life history records compiled by ecologists and naturalists with genomic analyses. The merging of data enables scientists to study how different organisms have adapted to different environments at the genetic level and to compare whether these adaptations have a similar genetic basis. By being able to look at different organisms, we can learn about traits that may be very different to give us new insight into biological processes.

As a result of the genomics revolution scientists are acquiring a more complete picture of human evolution, the ways in which humans and other species adapt, and how diseases may ultimately be treated based on an individual's personal genome. In this exciting moment of rapid scientific progress and change, it is paramount that an informed public be a participating partner in the progress of science. It is also vital to remember that ideas and questions can come from anyone. It is equally important to pursue the answers to these questions. We need an open scientific community where there are no obstacles to participation and progress.

Subscribe to the Weird News email.
Truth is stranger than fiction. Step into the world of weird news.