The way we store and analyse digital data has dramatically improved many areas of our lives – everything from solving crimes to putting an array of information at our fingertips. Within our increasingly digital landscape, we have an unprecedented opportunity to use technology to save lives by pro-actively responding to disease events, such as epidemics.
The current COVID pandemic
has put a spotlight on the ability to rapidly transform clinical samples into meaningful data that can be used to track the spread or develop vaccines – and genomics has played a huge part in making this possible.
The field of genomics has grown rapidly in recent years, and for most countries, this popularity has resulted in dramatic reductions to cost. It’s now been 20 years since the first draft human genome was published at a cost of $3 billion dollars
. Now, it costs just $1000 and it’s thought that in the future it might only cost $100
What is a genome?
It’s not just humans that have a genome; every living thing, including bacteria and viruses, have one too. Also known as a genetic blueprint, the genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA which holds the instructions for living things to develop, grow and live. DNA itself is made up of chemical building blocks called nucleotides linked together into long strands. Each nucleotide contains one of four bases usually known by their abbreviations A, T, C and G and the order of these determines the biological instructions in a strand of DNA.
Whole genome sequencing is the technology that reveals the exact order – or sequence - of these bases. While seemingly simple, knowing the order of these four letters provides the code which has led to remarkable advances in our understanding of biology, including human disease.
In the case of bacteria, the information from the genome can tell us how aggressive a strain is, or how closely related different samples of bacteria are – this is particularly important when tracking and tracing outbreaks of disease.
In fact, the MRF- Meningococcal Genome Library (MRF-MGL)
has shown us that decoding a genome can provide lifesaving information.