Genomics is the collective term for a broad spectrum of research techniques used to gain insight into the structure and functioning of the genetic material of plants, animals and micro-organisms.
The techniques that scientists have at their disposal have improved greatly over recent years, making it possible to collect large amounts of data on the genetics of organisms quickly and inexpensively. Most Wageningen scientists dealing with genomics no longer focus on collecting raw data on DNA sequences – they are busy interpreting it. The search is on for useful information that plant and cattle breeders can use in developing plants which require fewer pesticides, for instance, or cows that cause fewer emissions of methane, a major greenhouse gas.
Mapping genetic diversity
Now that the genome of many plants and animals has been published, scientists are focusing on the mapping of genetic diversity. The genome of the Heinz 1706 model tomato was published in 2012 in Nature. Wageningen scientists are now mapping 150 other tomato varieties so that breeders and scientists can know in which ways varieties differ from each other. Read more about the Tomato Genome ReSequencing project.
Specialisations in genomics
Over the years, genomics has fanned out into many new specialisations, from transcriptomics (for RNA), to proteomics (proteins) and metabolomics (metabolisms) – research techniques that can be applied to many areas. Food scientists, for example, use transcriptomics to investigate the effects of fibres on the immune system, while animal scientists deploy proteomics to map the immune proteins in milk. Wageningen UR has brought together the facilities for all these types of research within the Wageningen Omics Facility.