1.2 Genomics unraveled.

So what is that “Genomics”?

Imagine a world where limbs and organs can be regrown, bacteria cures and viruses repair DNA, all thanks to the expansive big bang of knowledge gained from what was once simply called ‘genetics’ or ‘hereditary theory’. What was once a sole focus on DNA has morphed into the study of DNA in context with its surrounding environment and interactions, genetics has become genomics.

Genomics is going to change the world. Just as the 20th century was the century of physics, of unlimited control over electrons and materials, this will be the century of biology, the century in which we will learn to control living tissues like never before.

Dr. Fer, Seattle

But first the basics.

The human body is made up of about 37 trillion cells. Each cell contains the nucleus where the hereditary materials are located. When viewed under the microscope, the interior of the nucleus looks like a ball of wool and this is the DNA. DNA is divided into 46 packets that become visible under the microscope during cell division. During cell division, long strands of DNA are condensed and appear like sausages when viewed under the microscope. These structures are known as chromosomes. Humans are diploid organisms, meaning the chromosomes come in (homologous) pairs, one chromosome from the father and one from the mother. Homologous chromosomes are alike in their general make-up (except for the sex chromosomes in males, the X and Y), but definitely not identical.

Hereditary molecule.

The DNA –DeoxyriboNucleic Acid for connoisseurs – is the hereditary molecule. Here it is clear what we are and can become; here lies the promise of our posterity, but also the legacy of ancestors. Wrapped in the shape of an endless long string, with the iconic spiral staircase shape – the double helix!

The DNA molecule itself consists of two long, twisted strands, connected by ‘steps’. DNA consists of only four molecules: adenineguaninecytosine and thymine, usually abbreviated with their initial letters A, G, C and T. These molecules are called nucleotides. The connecting steps are loosely bound: the G always clicks on the C, and the A always on the T. Because the bases differ per step, an endlessly long series of letters is created along the spiral staircase: A, C, T, T, G, G, T, C, A, A, A, A; go on and on. This is the famous ‘code of life’ in which cells store their genetic information, written down in A’s, T’s, G’s and C’s.

DNA double helix with ACGT and binary numbers in the background.

Reading the genome would take 46 years (without a break or a night’s rest).

We are all familiar with computer binary code. Well, humans (and all living things) are a quaternary code.

About three billion steps or ‘base pairs’ count the entire DNA sequence of humans, and it is not easy (and astonishing) to realize how huge that actually is. If you were to write and print a person’s genetic letter code in an average book you would need 11 thousand of them, a pile as high as a ten-story apartment building. Reading the genome would take 46 years (without a break or a night’s rest); printing the DNA code in the font in which you are reading this would produce a string of letters from here to Tokyo.

The Genome is the total genetic information of any living organism.

Genomics is the study and understanding of the genome.

 tip!
– Ready to test your knowledge?
– Click on ‘Quiz 1.2’ below to enter.

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