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About Genomics

May 2008

Genomics is a rapidly growing industry that uses genomic information to develop novel methods, products, and services for a variety of applications. The field includes gene sequencing and mapping, functional genomics, and bioinformatics. To date, most commercial applications of genomics technologies have been in health and the life sciences. However, the industry's large investment in genomics has enabled the gradual spillover of technologies into research applications in the agricultural industry and parts of the chemical industry. Therefore, genomics will not only become a vital technology in medicine and personal-care applications, but examination of microbial and plant genomes will allow researchers to design new catalysts, chemicals, and materials. Genomic information will also help ensure the biodiversity of endangered or threatened environments. Rapid-screening capabilities for food and water for microbial contamination could also be possible with genomics technology.

The Human Genome Project is a landmark event in science that is transforming biology and medicine. Yet despite the existence of the human genetic-sequence code, scientists lack a clear understanding of the functions of most genes. Functional genomics should give rise to new theories about biological systems and provide new understanding and improved methods of disease diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. For example, the elucidation of the role of genes in disease will open the door to more rapid diagnostics that detect cellular changes before symptoms appear, new drugs that directly affect gene expression, and targeted methods of monitoring the effectiveness of treatments or the influence of environments by measuring changes in genes or gene expression. Improved understanding of the function of genes and proteins in disease processes and their validation through clinical research are currently leading drivers of tool development. Commercial development of these same tools for clinical appliances is likely to follow soon.

Although genomics is truly a disruptive agent of change that has the power to transform scientific research, product development, and people's everyday lives, many unknowns accompany this process: questions about how to convert scientific results into product developments, who should own the rights to genetic resources, and what the ethical, social, and legal implications are of modern science and its application. As a result, the genomics industry needs better rules of operation to function effectively, and future commercial viability demands improvements in scientific literacy among the general public. As the impact of genomics becomes more evident at the scientific level and as the implications become clearer at an applications level, scientists, business leaders, and policy makers will need to work together to increase public involvement and understanding as well as to develop the appropriate regulatory and legal frameworks to support a genomics-based consumer marketplace. However, participants in the genomics industry also need to prepare for long development timelines and the uncertainty that will accompany the field as it navigates the complex interplay between science, technology, and policy en route to the marketplace.