At A Glance – Genomics

Genomics: the holy grail of preventative healthcare

Nobody likes being ill. But what if you could take your health into your own hands? What if you could find out which health conditions are most likely to affect you, and change your lifestyle to reduce the chance of getting sick? Enter genomics.

Genomics is an interdisciplinary field that studies the structure, function, and editing of genomes. Unlike genetics, it looks at genes collectively to identify aspects of a person’s genome that are susceptible to specific healthcare conditions. Likewise, genomics can also suggest which treatments are likely to be most effective for those with certain genetic makeups.

It comes as no surprise that by 2022, the global genomics market is predicted to reach almost $24bn. Back in 1990, the Human Genome Project first set out to sequence the three billion base pairs in the human genome. Now, the goal has shifted to identify all of the genes too. Currently, we only understand one per cent of the three billion digits in the entire human genome. However, since the project began, the cost of sequencing has drastically reduced from $10m to $10,000.

Eventually, it’s thought that babies will have their genes sequenced at birth. In theory, this will enable people to immediately reduce their susceptibility to illness. Another important goal is to create a synthetic human genome for the purpose of developing virus resistant cells.

The barriers to genomic research include regulatory uncertainty, lack of computing power, and insufficient funding. Genomics has also led to debate about who owns genetic data, what it is used for, and whether or not gene sequencing should happen at all. Given the interest in the field, both from industry and the consumer market, these questions need to be answered.

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