What is functional genomics?

Functional genomics is a field of molecular biology that enables you to explore genes, protein functions and interactions on a global scale. Functional genomic experiments (Figure 1.1) typically utilise large-scale assays to measure and track many genes or proteins in parallel under different environmental conditions. This approach allows the DNA function to be discovered by combining information from genes, transcripts and proteins.

Functional genomic experiments

Figure 1.1. Functional genomic experiments integrate information from various molecular methodologies to gain an understanding of how DNA sequence is translated into complex information in a cell (DNA → RNA → Proteins → biological process)

High-throughput technologies, such as microarrays and high-throughput sequencing (HTS) (1), are frequently used in this field to investigate the transcriptome. The application of such genome-wide approaches can help us by answering relevant biological questions such as:

  • When and where are genes expressed?
  • How do gene expression levels differ in various cell types and states?
  • What are the functional roles of different genes and in what cellular processes do they participate?
  • How are genes regulated?
  • How do genes and gene products interact?
  • How is gene expression changed in various diseases or following a treatment?

Studies performed using microarrays and HTS produce massive amounts of data. These data can help us to gain insights into underlying biological processes only if they are carefully recorded and stored in databases, where they can be queried, compared and analysed (2). These databases (for example, ArrayExpress) provide easy access to well-annotated functional genomics data in a structured and standardised format, as well as facilitating the sharing of information associated with such data.