Genomics explained

Analysing and comparing the genomes of organisms is central to developing biomedical understanding of human health. We seek to stimulate interest in and promote discussion of our science among audiences including students, teachers, members of the community and science communicators. DNA is the code that shapes our physical existence. We believe that it is our responsibility to engage with the ethical context of our new found understanding of genetic biology.

Your genome - at yourgenome.org

Our dedicated Public Engagement website provides a variety of resources that make learning about genomics interesting and accessible. Please visit yourgenome.org for further information on genetics and the Sanger Institute's contribution.

Humans share 89% of their DNA with zebrafish.

Why genomics?

For each of us, our individual genomic information provides a blueprint of our intricate and diverse physical features. At the Sanger Institute, we base our research on the conviction that understanding genome is and will be crucial in unravelling the role of individual variation in the biology of health and disease.

What is DNA?

DNA is the genetic code that we all carry in our cells. The code is made up of the four chemical letters A, T, C and G. These letters are called bases and form the genetic code in all living things from plant to animal, bacteria to human. However, variation in the order of the bases is crucial to the differences both between and within species.

Zebrafish (Danio rerio).

Zebrafish (Danio rerio). [Wellcome Library, London]

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DNA sequences include genes which are the instructions to build particular proteins based on the code within the gene. Each cell works as a factory, producing proteins that build and renew tissues throughout the body. Variations in our DNA can lead to differences in protein production and therefore differences in our physical attributes, including our susceptibility to diseases.

Genomic research tries to unravel the complexity of these processes in the human body.

How we study genomes

Researchers at the Sanger Institute look at DNA in order to understand the basis of biology. By examining and interpreting DNA code, scientists can identify genes and predict a function for each gene (a process in which that gene plays a role). By looking for differences between people and between organisms, scientists can begin to establish which differences are important for disease processes by asking questions:

Illumina machines.

The Sanger Institute has one of the largest sequencing centres in the world. New technologies allow researchers to decipher genetic codes: from human to mouse, bacteria to parasite. [Genome Research Limited]

Are there DNA variants that are associated with a genetic disease?

Are there variants that make an infectious disease organism more dangerous?

Since the Human Genome Project delivered the human genetic code in 2003, researchers have been working to interpret the function of each gene and the role that differences between genes play for our health.

Our researchers also examine the biology of human genetic variants in zebrafish or mouse models. Humans share 95 per cent of their DNA with mice and 89 per cent with zebrafish. Using these organisms, we can model human diseases to develop biological understanding.

The ethics of genomics

Genomic research has the potential to deliver great advances in our understanding of the biology of health and disease. The new-found abilities of researchers to unlock the very code of our existence raise important ethical questions. Part of the responsibility of research organisations, like the Sanger Institute, is to address the ethical context of genetic research.

To explore some of the ethical issues around genomics, please visit the Ethics and Issues section of our dedicated Public Engagement website, YourGenome.org.

To learn about our ethics policies and committees, please visit our Governance and policies page.

* quick link - http://q.sanger.ac.uk/wm8zpvjy