Sunday, March 07, 2010

Genomics: progress in exomes and structural variance

The fast rate of progress in many areas of genomics was the most salient dynamic of the Future of Genomic Medicine III conference at Scripps in San Diego CA, March 5-6, 2010. Cancer genomics and pharmacogenomics continue to blossom as wide-ranging fields of applied genomics. Aging and genomics, and the role of genetics in studying disease and the microbiome are nascent and growing. Importantly coming to the forefront for the first time is structural analysis and exome analysis.

Structural analysis of genomes concerns copy number variation (multiple copies of genes), inserted genes, deleted genes, inverted genes and other structural changes, and is found in all classes of traits and disease. There is thought to be 12% structural variation between humans as opposed to 0.1% SNP variation between humans. SNP variation is the 'typos' at specific genetic locations where the normal nucleotide combination is 'AA' and some people have the risk alleles 'AT' or 'TT.”

Using exomes (the 1-2% of the genome that contains protein coding regions) as a cheaper alternative to whole human genome sequencing, and conducting basic SNP analysis together with more complex structural variation analysis, and possibly methylation analysis (which genes are blocked from expression), and RNA transcriptome analysis (levels of DNA expression), could bring more sophistication to DNA analysis for myriad purposes including pharmacogenomics and disease analysis.

Some interesting startup companies are starting to realize these new aspects of genomic medicine:

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