Genetics is a relatively new science. Just over 100 years ago, Mendel, the famous father of genetics, walked through the monastery gardens hybridizing thousands of pea plants without knowing that his scientific discoveries would change our understanding of living organisms. The fact is that from the Mendelian particle to the present day, the technological leap in genetics has been surprising.
Since the discovery of the structure of DNA, the so-called molecule of life, in 1953, research has taken us to the edge of science fiction. There is no shortage of examples: genetic enhancement, genetic modification, cloning, gene therapies, and gene editing, to name a few.
The possibility of mapping genes, which emerged in the 1970s, and associated with techniques that reduce the time required to obtain complete genotypes, gave rise to a branch of genetics known as “omics.”
Genomics, the precursor to omics, deals with reading the genetic material, that is, an organism's DNA. But interpreting this law of life presents another challenge. The current era, called postgenomics, is able to go beyond mapping genes and informing and integrating their resulting transcripts, proteins, and metabolites.
These tools form part of omics science, which includes, among others, genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics. Transcriptomics is the study of RNAs that cells need to be active.
Remember: RNAs are molecules that translate protein recipes encoded in DNA and determine which genes are expressed and how they are expressed in different cells.
The next step is to identify and understand the functions of these proteins. This study is called proteomics, which is a systematic analysis of proteins that complements genomics and transcriptomics. Finally, the activity of proteins produces metabolites, which are metabolic products in a biological sample, which are studied through metabolomics.
For the reader less familiar with the subject, the scope of benchmarks may not be obvious, but have you ever stopped to think about what they make possible? We can analyze thousands of genetic variations, genes, proteins and metabolites at the same time, and measure their responses in different environments and situations. This not only allows us to understand the organism broadly, but also allows us to change these forms according to the intended goals, as long as they are ethical.
The applications in the health sector are enormous. Among them is understanding how a disease (cancer, for example) develops. In agriculture and livestock, the application is countless. Identifying key genes and metabolic pathways and being able to manipulate them could lead to plants and animals that are more productive, less demanding and more tolerant of environmental influences, such as drought, temperature changes and diseases, among other factors.
These capabilities, which today depend only on more applied research, will be crucial to meeting the growing demand for food and the requirements for sustainable production. Perhaps it is not an exaggeration to say that the future belongs to omics.
* Luiz Gusahkian is an animal technician, professor of genetic improvement and technical supervisor of the Brazilian Association of Zebu Breeders (ABCZ).
Note: The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of Globo Rural
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