|Animals||Genomics research on animals illuminates aspects of evolution, contributes to medicine, and helps in ecological management. Includes: animal research, comparative genomics, "directed" evolution, and history, and specific species such as dogs, birds, bears, and insects. |
|Basic Biology||The genome is just one part of an interacting system within the cell and outside of it. Includes: mutation; chromosomes; mitochondria; cellular biology; systems biology; microbes, including extremophiles, bacteria, viruses, algae, fungae, and protozoa; and synthetic life. |
|Business & Economics||Science and industry increasingly intertwine in all areas of genomics, from developing research tools to investigating ideas to marketing drugs. Includes: the food industry, the biotech industry, lobbying, patents, the pharmaceutical industry, marketing, regulation, conflicts-of-interest, and the history of business and economics in genomics. |
|Climate Change||Genetic technology contributes to an understanding of human effects on the Earth's climate systems and offers potential tools to mitigate global warming. Includes: the weather, atmosphere, emissions, global warming, migration, adaptation, extinction, the history of climate research, synthetic life and extremophiles, and energy. |
|Community||Our genes inhabit our bodies, which inhabit many communities: our extended family, our workplace, our place of worship, our school, our neighborhood. As geneticists look more deeply into genes, health, and the environment, they have begun to take “community” into account, too.
How do cultural differences and social inequalities form part of the system in which our genes operate? How does race, ethnicity, or economic status affect the environmental exposures that interact with our genomes? Can our genetic ancestry guide our understanding of our historical relationships and our health?
Our place within a community can influence the way in which we interpret genetic science and how it affects us personally. Our access to medicine and its importance in our lives can vary with community. Our ability to respond to climate change depends on our economic and social resources as a people, whether as a nation or a neighborhood. Our culture and our neighborhood influences whether we grow our food, whom we buy it from, and the quality we expect. Food safety can take on a different meaning when you are a farmer or when most of your food comes from overseas.
Our communities can affect our access to genetic knowledge and to science more generally. They are an important factor in debates over the risks and rewards of genetic technology. |
|Culture & Science||Science operates in a climate of culture, which in turn affects the questions asked and the interpretation of answers. Includes: gender and science, religion, adaptation, race, and the history of these areas. |
|Ecology & Environment||Scientists are using genetics to understand ecological systems and to intervene for conservation and cleanup. Includes: biodiversity, biosafety, conservation, gene flow, bioremediation, phytoremediation, treaties, regulation, and the history of these areas. |
|Epigenetics||Early on in the Human Genome Project, scientists hoped the genome could be read like a cookbook for an individual’s health—and possibly for our offsprings’ health as well. And indeed, scientists have found some recipes, but they’ve also learned that more ingredients than an orderly series of genes come into play.
Genes, environment, and regulatory factors all work together to influence our bodies, our health, and what we pass on to the next generation. Our DNA is wrapped tightly into a chemical blanket—the chromatin—that winds itself up into our chromosomes. Within that structure, various controls layer onto the DNA sequence and guide its expression like a series of express lanes, traffic lights, and “do not code” signals. In “imprinting,” the sex of the parent transmitting a gene can change the way it operates. In processes called “methylation” and “acetylation,” a network of chemicals lock in and turn up or down expression of protein-coding genes. “Gene silencing” refers to a means by which small RNAs block the work of their relatives—those RNA molecules that translate DNA code into proteins. All these mechanisms fall under the term “epigenetics,” stable controls inside of the cell but outside of the DNA that often are passed on to the next generation.
Age and environment—including the kinds of foods our parents ate and the way we were cared for while young—can change the signals on our epigenome and then be passed on to our next generation. Researchers are exploring the epigenome for clues that might help explain and treat complex diseases such as cancer, schizophrenia, and autism. |
|Ethics||Powerful new knowledge about the workings of life can come with difficult questions about justice, fairness, and equity. Includes: conflicts-of-interest, discrimination, biopiracy, eugenics, privacy, and the history of these areas. |
|Evolution||Scientists continue to test and probe evolution's processes, hunt for historic moments of change, and apply its rules as a predictive tool.
Genomics offers powerful tools to decipher the process of evolution, probe the origin of life, and refine Darwin's powerful theory. Includes: adaptation, natural selection, comparative genomics, the origin of life, and the history of the science of evolution.
Charles Darwin laid out the evidence for evolution in The Origin of the Species in 1859. Scientists have successfully applied its central concepts and elaborated on them ever since. They continue to test and probe evolution’s processes, hunt for historic moments of change, and apply its rules as a predictive tool.
Unlike some cartoon representations, evolution isn’t the story of fish crawling out of the sea and eventually progressing into humans. Rather, evolution describes the changes that take place over time from chance variations in our genomes. When these give a population an advantage for survival in a particular situation—such as drought, moist air, or harsh winters—then they are more likely to be passed down from one generation to the next. Mutations, sexual reproduction, and gene flow from one population to another all add to genetic variation.
The data pouring out of genetic research today is helping scientists construct the multi-branched tree of life as it has evolved and continues to adapt. Researchers can study the differences and similarities between the DNA of a species like a worm, a chimp, and a human. They can then discover the basic tools for life that all species share and the ways in which our paths diverged. |
|Food & Agriculture||Genetic technology provides ever more sophisticated means to grow foods and manage crops, while also presenting risks not yet fully understood. Includes: pharmafoods, GMO foods, nutrition, hunger, gene flow, organics, food and crop technology, and the history of these areas. |
|Funding||Science today is an expensive process and relies on funds from a range of sources, each with its own set of priorities. Includes: philanthropy; academic-corporate alliances; NIH, DOE, and other agencies; and the history of these areas. |
|Gene-Environment Interaction||Scientists once thought studies of inheritance and gene activity held the answers to most of medicine. But as they work to put information about the genome into practice, they are learning that there is much more to the story.
When geneticists first started to unravel the strands of the double helix and sort out the workings of DNA, genes seemed all powerful. Scientists thought studies of inheritance and gene activity held the answers to most of medicine, including diseases as complex as cancer and diabetes. But now, as they work to put information about the genome into practice, they are learning that there is much more to the story. They have begun to look more closely at small variations within genes, the regions nearby that manage genes, and the outside influences that can change the way our inherited DNA operates.
Genes usually do not act alone, geneticists now know. They have begun to sort out the importance of timing, the influence of other genes, and the gene-altering power of environmental factors from the air we breathe to the food we eat.
In the area of obesity, for instance, researchers have shifted away from a hunt for individual, very powerful genes that predispose people toward weight gain. They have stopped looking for a simple equation of the amount of food we eat and the energy we expend. Instead, our weight may reflect the biochemical interplay of our genes with diet, exercise, appetite, and more. Geneticists have begun looking at these types of interactions more closely through projects such as the National Institutes of Health Genes, Environment and Health Initiative. |
|Health & Medicine||Genomic research has deepened human understanding of health, development, and disease, and also offers powerful avenues for treatment. Includes: obesity, diabetes, ADHD, and other specific disorders; clinical trials; drugs/pharmaceuticals; gene therapy; stem cells; health disparities; infectious disease; antibiotic resistance; toxicogenomics; pharmacogenomics; gene-environment interaction; and the history of these areas. |
|Human Genetic Testing & DNA Analysis||Researchers hope genetic tests can help shed light on disease susceptibility, trace the history of human populations, and identify both crime suspects and victims. Includes: forensics, ancestry testing, direct-to-consumer tests, prenatal testing, predictive testing, and the history of these areas. |
|International||Genetic research operates in an international environment, from the exchange of discoveries to the regulation of use. Includes: regulation, trade, and the history of these areas. |
|Law & Public Policy||Research and development in genomics informs, challenges, and must comply with public policy and law. Includes: the Endangered Species Act, GMO restrictions, patents, biopiracy, politics, regulation, risk assessment, international policies, and the history of these areas. |
|Mind & Memory||Genomics is offering insight on the workings of our brains and what can go wrong, including the ways in which our environment can influence both. Includes: psychology, learning, mental health, stress, neuroscience, neurodegenerative disease, consciousness, nervous system, the brain (including development), and the history of these areas. |
|Public Response & Participation||The medical and technical results of genomic research could have profound effects on society. Includes: the acceptance of new technologies, debates about new technologies, surveys of public opinion, patient advocacy, and the history of these areas. |
|Research||Scientists reach from the bench to the clinic to far-away planets as they explore the fabric of life and apply what they are learning. Includes: the Human Genome Project, astrobiology, classical genetics, sequencing, basic research, animal research, stem cells, clinical trials, funding issues, toxicogenomics, pharmacogenomics, gene-environment interactions, international, academia, systems biology, and the history of these areas. |
|Safety||The scientists who first planned to tinker with DNA raised safety concerns before they began and the field remains alert to potential risks. Includes: field tests, food safety, ecological safety, lab safety, antibiotic resistance, regulation, and the history of these areas. |
|Social Justice||Genomics research can provide a means both to address and to sidestep inequities in society. Includes: health disparities, discrimination, environmental justice, and the history of these areas. |
|Systems Biology||The genomes of all living things interact with many other interdependent parts. We respond as biological "systems" to the environment that surrounds us.
Just as we get used to the idea of DNA and its importance in our lives, scientists are moving on. DNA doesn't control life like a predictable, sequential processing program, they have discovered. Instead, the genomes of all living things -- from the microbe to the whale to the human being - interact with many other interdependent parts. These include other cellular components; our tissues, organs, other organisms and each other; the air, water and soil we inhabit; and even damage or stimulation from sources such as radiation and stress. We respond as biological "systems" to the environment that surrounds us.
By studying what they call systems biology, scientists aim to understand the complex interactions that make up living organisms and the ecological networks that sustain us. They are bringing together disciplines including genetics, computer modeling, mathematics, engineering and physics. The interplay of the whole, they say, offers much more information than close examination of each part. |
|Technology||Powerful technologies have emerged from the effort to understand genetic processes. Includes: nanoscience, bioremediation, sequencing tools, gene chips, synthetic life, and the history of these areas. |