In order to truly understand ourselves and our family history, it’s important to know a little bit about genetics. A large part of our lived experience, health, and personality is influenced by genetics. A deeper understanding of how we’re built can give us a better ability to live our healthiest lives.
There’s a distinction between our inherited genes and the way that they’re expressed throughout our lifetimes, though. Exploring that distinction requires that you understand a little bit about genetics vs genomics.
We’re going to take a look at these two ideas today, giving you some insight into what they are and how they operate in the human body.
Let’s get started:
Genetics vs Genomics: What’s The Relationship?
Most of us are familiar with the idea of genetics. Our genes are inherited through DNA and dictate most factors in our physical appearance, how we naturally age, and a number of other personal factors that are set in stone in our lives.
We often think of genes as things that are permanent, unchanging, and just a matter of fact when it comes to our lived experience.
In some ways, this is true. Genes carry the blueprint for our bodies to use in the process of creating all of the cells that carry out all of the functions in our lives. In the case of inherited disease, for example, there isn’t much that a person can do to change how that inheritance plays out.
The same goes for things like eye color, hair color, and a number of other factors that are inherent pieces of a person’s makeup.
What is The Genome?
A person’s genome is the sum total of all their genes. The set of genes that a person inherits is their full genome, and that genome operates in various ways throughout a person’s lifetime. On the one hand, that genome lays the foundation for a personality.
On the other, a person’s environment interacts heavily with a person’s genome and impacts how those genes are expressed.
A good parallel to use when thinking about this idea is the relationship between genotypes and phenotypes. The genotype is the actual gene that a person inherits.
The phenotype is the way that the gene is expressed. So, one is the script and the other is the actor. The differences between genetics vs genomics can be thought of in the same way. Two people with nearly identical genetics can be dropped into two different environments and have vastly different personalities and experiences.
Similarly, even though those two people might have inherited the same susceptibility to a particular disease, one might get it while the other doesn’t. It could also be the case that both individuals have the disease, but one’s body is better able to fight it off and manage it.
There is still a lot that’s set in stone as a result of genetics, though. We can see this fact from evidence given by twins who are separated at birth and grow to be very similar people.
Why These Concepts Matter
It’s important to take a close look at these concepts because they can tell us a great deal about human health on personal and global scales.
While we’re all vastly different in numerous ways, we’re comprised of the same genetic proteins and strands of DNA. That means that insights gleaned from one individual can help the medical community work to improve the health of millions of others.
When it comes to genomic data, we’re looking at how environmental factors interact with genes to produce different outcomes. In other words, it’s looking at how nurture impacts nature in human beings.
The implications of data and research into environmental factors can change the health outcomes of entire communities. On a smaller scale, these insights can inform doctors on how to treat a person with cancer.
Similarly, someone who’s prone to a particular genetic disease might have more options as a result of an improved genomic study.
Another area of genomics is the study of mutations to a person’s genes that happen as a result of their environment. So, instead of the environment interacting with particular genes, the environment produces mutations that can be harmful to human health.
Take most cancers, for example. Most people aren’t genetically prone to develop cancer. Instead, most cases come as the result of prolonged exposure to some toxic element of the environment.
A great example of this is how smoking produces cancerous mutations if a person continues to do it. Genomics analysis can look at the specifics of how those mutations occur in hopes of finding a way to prevent cancers from developing.
Of course, we’re not at a point where genomics is able to identify all of the mutations that occur and harm human health, but the process is underway. Even before massive breakthroughs are made, genomics can aid by improving treatment for diseases like cancer.
A Little Hope for The Future
You might be surprised to know that the field of genomics is relatively new. Professionals have always been exploring the balance between nurture and nature, but human understanding is growing and improving exponentially with the help of technology.
Data management and communication platforms like the one found at https://www.onramp.bio/nanostring are a massive help. These platforms allow experts from all over the world to have a streamlined source of updated information.
Advancements in the fields of genetics and genomics are sure to improve in the near future. That means we can have a hopeful look for the treatment of deadly diseases, whatever they may be.
One day, we might even come to a pretty complete understanding of how our genetic material interacts with the world.
Want to Learn More?
The differences between genetics vs genomics are pretty complex. There’s a lot to learn, and we’re here to help you get a little better idea of how these ideas impact your life on a daily basis.