What is genomics
Genomics is the study of genetic information (the genome), its roles, and its complex interactions. The language of DNA is common to living organisms. Knowledge developed for one organism is therefore directly relevant to other organisms across the plant and animal kingdoms, including humans.
Genomics and its related disciplines have profoundly transformed the study of living organisms. They provide a unique level of understanding that already contributes broad applications to improve the quality of human life, Canada’s economy, and environmental sustainability. Genomics leads a true scientific revolution and applications keep breaking new grounds. Many share the opinion that genomics will be for the 21st century what information technology was for the 20th century, with massive performance increases that will continue for years to come.
Genes are just one part of a vast and largely unresolved system. What also matters is the way networks of genes function together in a given environment. Computer technology, nanotechnology and other sciences converge with biology to provide a powerful array of new transformative technologies and explore research questions that were recently still out of reach.
Genomics-driven innovations are finding solutions to complex challenges related to living organisms. They are also raising questions of societal and economic importance. By being at the forefront of research in genomics, federal laboratories support innovation and decisions based on credible and dependable scientific evidence.
A rapidly evolving field
Genomics is continuously redefining its own frontiers and relies on techniques that evolve quickly. A first genomics revolution has seen the genomes of a large number of living organisms fully sequenced, including the human genome completed in 2003.
Genomics research has then entered a second revolution with developments in speed, accuracy and effectiveness of DNA sequencing and computer power at reduced cost. For example, sequencing of the first draft human genome had cost $3 billion. Now it can cost less than $1K.
Sequencing generates colossal quantities of data, requiring the development of novel statistical and informatics approaches to analyze these sequences and understand their roles in living organisms. The field of genomics is thus shifting towards ‘Big data’ analysis coupled with high-performance computing.
Transformative advances keep emerging, such as:
- whole-genome sequencing;
- USB drive-sized sequencers;
- novel techniques for the assembly of genomes;
- detailed measurements at the level of a single cell;
- synthetically created DNA;
- large-scale gene expression datasets allowing powerful investigations of gene function;
- powerful analytical processes;
- gene editing techniques based on Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)
Gene editing in particular has seen an explosion in its use, including in mammalian cells. This is opening the door for gene correction therapies in humans and precise targeted modifications in virtually any organism.
The current generation of genomics not only includes research on genomes, but also converging sciences and disciplines that generate powerful new tools and accelerate the rate of discovery and practical innovation. While massive performance increases and transformative developments will continue for years to come, genomics has already evolved from an information science to an applied field that has profound societal and economic impacts.
Genomics research and development funded by the Government of Canada
Genomics research funded by the Government of Canada is highly specialized, synergistic and complementary. Communication is ongoing and encourages alignment at the planning stages. Collaborations enable scientists to secure access to a much larger source of knowledge, technologies, ideas and results than they could generate on their own, and that would otherwise be unavailable.
The intramural Genomics Research and Development Initiative (GRDI) funds genomics research in eight federal science departments and agencies to support innovation and evidence-based decisions. Leading-edge research funded by the GRDI enables federal government scientists to develop solutions to priority issues facing Canadians. The GRDI also enables public sector scientists to position themselves as important participants in complementary genomics research in Canada and internationally.
Genome Canada is a not-for-profit organization that supports non-government, large-scale genomics research and technology platforms in universities and other non-governmental research institutes (e.g., hospitals). It requires co-funding and thus attracts greater investment in genomics research from a broad range of stakeholders.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada supports non-government genomics research as one of many scientific fields eligible for grants to postsecondary students and postdoctoral fellows.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research supports non-government genomics research in the area of human health.
Given Canada’s strength in this area and the multiple academic players, genomics research presents a huge opportunity for government laboratories to leverage their resources and make an impact for Canadians.
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