By Saara Mohammed
This semester I’m taking a microbial genetics class, and it’s gotten me more and more interested in the future of genetics for us humans: the increased ease of DNA sequencing, and what it will mean for our lives- health related as well as social.
Genomics is a subset of genetics in which recombinant DNA, DNA sequencing, and bioinformatics sequence, analyze, and assemble the structure of genomes (1). The size of a genome, or all the genetic material of an organism, doesn’t depend on the physical size or complexity of the organism.
For example, the amoeba genome is 200 times our 3-billion-base genome (2). The exon, or part of the genome that actually codes for proteins, could be sequenced individually, and only makes up 2% of the entire genome.
We’re already seeing the effects of the ease of sequencing on our ability to trace our family line and determine which genes we may need to pay attention to. Services like 23 and Me, a company that sells DNA tests for $99 for you to trace your genealogy. When you click over to their website, you see invitations to sequence your genome as a new year’s resolution: “Learn more about yourself this new year” (3).
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal in 2012, 23andme “has the largest autosomal DNA database, with more than 180,000 people” (4). Your results can reveal whether you carry mutations for 100s of rare genetic diseases, and your risk of common diseases. But for health care as a whole, there are new questions to consider.
Those who get the test results must be ready to find out about diseases you may have or alleles you may carry for diseases that may be past down to your children. And then there is the problem of how much and when to reveal the information to children, which can change their approach to their health in important ways. I’ll explore genomics and the implications for health care and society in my following posts.
1. National Human Genome Research Institute (2010-11-08). "A Brief Guide to Genomics". Genome.gov. Retrieved 2011-12-03.
2. McCarthy, Jeanette. "In My Genes." Genomics 2014: 10-12.
4. Tergesen, Anne. "Finding a Few Hundred Cousins." WSJ. The Wall Street Journal, 12 Dec. 2012. Web. 10 Jan. 2015.
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