Precision, or genomic, medicine is going to change the way you manage your health with your doctor.
GEM wants to empower you with the tools you need to have important conversations with healthcare professionals about the ways you can prevent, manage, and treat health conditions. On this page, you will find some key terms and definitions, as well as resources that are available to help you improve your understanding about your own genome, microbiome, and how they play a crucial role in your overall wellbeing. For more on GEM outreach events, please visit our Community Outreach Activities page.
Your DNA sequence contains the codes for your genes. More than 20,000 genes are encoded in your genome. Genes provide the instructions for proteins—like when to make proteins, how much to make, and where the proteins need to go in your body.
Your genome is the blueprint for your body; it is the DNA sequence that has all of the genetic instructions your body needs to stay alive. About 99.9% of the human genome is the same from person to person. Only 0.1% of your genome sequence accounts for all of the genetic variations we have from person to person—both those differences that we can see, and those we can't see. Every living organism has a genome.
Your genome can be found inside every single one of your cells inside your body.
The study of genomes, called genomics, looks at how gemomes are structured, how they work, and how changes to genomes can play a role in health and disease.
Scientists worked out the map of the human genome in 2003. It took more than a decade and millions of dollars. Because this "map" was completed, scientists have been able to use the information to develop new ways to prevent, identify, and treat thousands of diseases. The human genome “map” gave scientists gene locations and information about their structure. This helps scientists figure out why a gene might be important, and how it can be turned off or on. Our knowledge about the human genome will continue to have a great impact on the health and disease management for all of humanity.
The research on the human genome didn't stop with the completion of the Human Genome Project. In fact, it unlocked a whole new set of questions related to the possibilities of personalized medicine. Many other organisms besides humans have now had their genomes sequenced—fruit flies, mouse, mosquito, rice, corn, and many more. Because of this, and because of similarities across some organisms’ genomes, scientists can test out their ideas using animals in their experiments. The work of genomic scientists will help us understand how each person's unique genome is related to their health and wellbeing, and how healthcare decisions about prevention, medicine, and treatment might be tailored to each person's genome.
Many people get their DNA sequenced as part of exploring their ethnic heritage, using "direct-to-consumer" services like 23andme or Ancestry. Doctors use genetic tests to look for disease risks and treatment options, and pharmacists use genetics to determine recommended medication types and dosages. There are many differences between whole genome "direct-to-consumer" tests and the genetic tests used by healthcare professionals. It is recommended that you consult with a genetic counselor if you want more information about the meaning of your genetic variants, and how they may impact your health.
Your microbiome is of all of the microbes, including bacteria, that live in and on your body. Most of your microbes help you digest food and stay healthy. At any given time, you have more DNA material from your microbiome than from your human genome. Microbes are tiny living creatures—millions can fit in the eye of a needle! Microbes include bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Your microbes make up about five pounds of your body weight.
It is important to remember that we are all hosts to a wide variety of good bacteria that help us with all kinds of body functions. Sometimes, bad bacteria can get out of balance due to an infection or a wound, and the result is a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics. This is different from a viral infection, such as the common cold or influenza, which will not be helped by antibiotics. Taking antibiotics to treat an infection has a major impact on your microbiome, and possibly your health. Consider adding a probiotic to help your body maintain balance during a course of antibiotics.
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