I recently saw a Twitter post comparing Genomics with Genetics based on a chart from Health Education England's Genomics Education Programme.
I am frequently asked to describe this difference and in 2005 I would have answered in almost exactly the same way. In the simplest of terms, ‘Genomics’ is a systems approach and ‘Genetics’ is a reductionist approach.
In the nearly 15 years since, I have come to view this as an oversimplification. Here is my thinking.
Even though the word ‘genome’ did not appear in Alberta Biology textbooks until 2007, that word has been in use since the late 1920s. The word ‘genomics’ came out of a 1986 brainstorming session after a few beers at a bar in Bethesda Maryland. The scientists were discussing the feasibility of sequencing the human genome. Now, we are in an era of consumer genomics where competing companies seek our saliva samples to reveal our ancestry or give us health advice based on our DNA. We can even pay to learn our doggie’s DNA secrets.
Genomics and genetics have become more intertwined as health concerns and research into cancer, aging, dementia and autoimmune diseases look at the regulation and expression of individual and interacting genes. Where do genetic engineering, CRISPR technology, epigenetics, GWAS and epistasis fit?
I no longer view genomics and genetics as two separate fields of study. It was never easy to adroitly divide them into two columns.
In their book Venom
, Ronald Jenner and Eivind Undheim explained the difficulty of categorizing venom and poison: “Definitions, by definition, are exclusive, and Mother Nature often resists being parsed into neat categories
”. I have that problem with genomics and genetics.
In preparation for a presentation I did in 2010, I used the program Wiki Mind Map (unfortunately no longer available) to develop a concept map of Wikipedia topics centred on ‘genomics’. Genetics was included on that map.
I now view Genomics as a large puzzle. We have been putting a lot of the edge pieces in place. Genetics is one very important piece of that puzzle. I doubt that anyone is currently doing classical genetic mapping using crossing over and Mendelian Genetics with fruit flies since the Drosophila genome has been sequenced. It may still be taught in school, as this was an important piece of the puzzle.
I can’t imagine creating a chart that compares bluejays versus birds. Why should we separate genetics from genomics?
Link of interest
The Wholeness in Suffix -omics, -omes, and the Word Om