Genomics

DEFINITION of 'Genomics'

The study of the genome, which is the complete set of the genetic material or DNA present in an organism. Genomics studies all genes and their inter relationships in an organism, so as to identify their combined influence on its growth and development. The field of genomics attracted worldwide attention in the late 1990s with the race to map the human genome. The Human Genome Project (HGP), completed in April 2003, made available for the first time the complete genetic blueprint of a human being. Genomics has already made huge strides in better health care by enabling researchers to develop improved diagnostics and more effective therapies, while providing better decision-making tools for patients and health care providers.

BREAKING DOWN 'Genomics'

The human genome is a very complex entity containing huge amounts of information. DNA molecules are made of two twisting, paired strands – often called a double helix – and each strand consists of four chemical units called nucleotide bases – adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). Bases on opposite strands pair in a very specific manner – for example, an A always pairs with a T, and a C always pairs with a G. The order of this “genetic alphabet” determines the meaning of the information encoded in that part of the DNA molecule.

The human genome contains about 3 billion of these base pairs. Genome sequencing involved figuring out the exact order of all 3 billion of these DNA nucleotides, a feat which would not have been possible without massive amounts of computing power.

The Human Genome Project, which was formally initiated by the U.S. Department of Energy and National Institutes of Health in 1988, was successfully completed in April 2003. It was designed to create a resource that could be used for extensive biomedical studies, such as looking for the genetic variations that increase the risk of specific diseases. A study released in June 2013 reported that the $14.5-billion investment in HGP by the U.S. had paid off more than 60-fold in new jobs, drugs and a booming genetics industry, with a total economic impact of $966 billion.