Skip main navigation

Beyond sequencing: genomics applications

genomics applications
hands of a person working with lab equipment on a lab bench
© Wellcome Connecting Science

Many curriculums require students to have an understanding of genomics sequencing projects and their applications. There are a lot of applications that you could highlight to students so lets consider what could offer some relevant and contemporary examples.

Below are a few very different examples of applications of genome sequencing. Choose one of the options below and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

  • Understanding Biodiversity and Evolution The video below describes the work of the Darwin Tree of life programme at the Wellcome Sanger Insitute and how it is part of a global endeavour to sequence all life on earth.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szFdV9fQkls

Having watched the video, reflect on Mark’s last comment – “i believe this will change the way we do biology forever”. What do you think? How do you think having the genome sequence of all living species could impact on us?

A nice activity to run with students after this video is to simply ask the question: What Eukaryotic species (or taxa) would you sequence and why?

  • Direct to consumer tests Genomics consumerism is on the rise. There is a growing industry, with private companies marketing and selling a range of tests on the internet. Customers receive a testing kit through the post and send of a saliva sample and in a few weeks received results via email.

Tests are available for a whole range of applications from understanding one’s health, to finding out about ancestry and paternity. All come with ethical considerations which will be discussed later in this course.

This article is interspersed with video clips to enable you to discuss DTC test with students. https://www.yourgenome.org/stories/direct-to-consumer-testing

A longer video is also available here for your further exploring of different peoples experiences with DTC tests: https://www.yourgenome.org/video/direct-to-consumer-genetic-testing

Discussion point – would you take a direct to consumer test? What issues should we encourage our students to discuss? What issues could we encounter in the classroom when discussing this potentially contentious issue?

  • Forensics and crime

DNA sequences are uniquely powerful in forensic science for the identification of unknown individuals. DNA fingerprinting was invented in 1984 by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys after he realised you could detect variations in human DNA, in the form of “minisatellites”. Minisatellites are short sequences (10-60 base pairs long) of repetitive DNA that show greater variation from one person to the next than other parts of the genome. For more information on DNA fingerprinting visit: https://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-a-dna-fingerprint

In the future, targeted or full genome sequencing could replace or enhance the current DNA fingerprinting methods currently in use. This could enable DNA Phenotying – a type of predictive photofit image to predict the physical features or age of an unknown individual. There are lot of issues surrounding this however particular around privacy and surveillance and the potential for discrimination against already marginalised groups. For further reading please see the reference attached below.

Did you know that genomic information from online ancestry tests have been used to catch and convict serial killers and solve cold case murders? This article provides some details. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/10/12/17957268/science-ancestry-dna-privacy

Discussion point: How would you discuss this application with your students?

© Wellcome Connecting Science
This article is from the free online

Genomics for Educators

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education