Genomics is a branch of genetics that enables the study of genomes of whole organisms. It differs from 'classical genetics' in that it considers an organism’s full complement of hereditary material, rather than one gene or one gene product at a time. Moreover, genomics focuses on interactions between loci and alleles within the genome and other interactions such as epistasis, pleiotropy and heterosis (Figure 1.1). Genomics harnesses the availability of complete DNA sequences for entire organisms and was made possible by both the pioneering work of Fred Sanger and the more recent next-generation sequencing technology.
Fred Sanger's group established techniques of sequencing, genome mapping, data storage, and bioinformatic analyses in the 1970s and 1980s. This work paved the way for the human genome project in the 1990s (1), an enormous feat of global collaboration that culminated in the publication of the complete human genome sequence in 2003. Today, next-generation sequence technologies have led to spectacular improvements in the speed, capacity and affordability of genome sequencing. Moreover, advances in bioinformatics have enabled hundreds of life-science databases and projects that provide support for scientific research. Information stored and organised in these databases can easily be searched, compared and analysed. We will explore some key genomics resources in the following sections of this course.
Figure 1.1 Genomics studies the genomes of whole organisms and other intragenomic interactions.