It’s hard to imagine that the completion of the Human Genome Project was almost twenty years ago.
The last two decades have brought about an amazing amount of progress, discovery and development in the genomics realm, and it is not going to slow down anytime soon. There are also rumblings that biologists are actually on the verge of “entering a new era of genomics”
Some major trends we’re seeing in the field include next generation sequencing (NGS) technologies, CRISPR gene editing and lab automation. Many of which were just a scratch on the surface as little as 3 years ago.
These trends are also showing a major commonality: efficiency.
Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) Technologies
This statement from Jong Bhak of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology when asked where the future of genomics was going in 2019 speaks volumes. “Genomics will be everywhere. The history of the universe is divided into two phases: 1) before genome sequencing and 2) after genome sequencing.”
Next Generation Sequencing technology revolutionized the way we understand the genome as a whole. Its ability to target specific DNA and RNA regions has made NGS a critical day-to-day tool, but it’s actually quickly evolving into something even more encompassing.
We’re now seeing Third-Generation Sequencing, or TGS, coming to the stage with the ability to sequence longer reads. A new standard is emerging without the limitations of short-read only.
CRISPR Gene Editing
In an article by Genome Biology in 2019, Jernej Ule of The Francis Crick Institute identified CRISPR as an emerging trend to support methods-focused approaches. “In the future, hypotheses that are based on genomic data could be investigated more thoroughly, for example with the use of CRISPR-Cas-based approaches.”
Norbert Perrimon of Harvard Medical School was equally excited by this trend and the “ability to use CRISPR/Cas9-based methods to perform combinatorial screens effectively in cells…CRISPR/Cas9 should help us to realize the promise of combinatorial approaches, which have huge implications for our understanding of the organization of signaling networks and the development of therapeutics.”
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR gene editing technology, is continuing to accelerate research across the field of genomics. The newer Cas13 tool (in relation to the Cas9 mentioned in 2019), is fast, affordable and more accurate than its predecessors.
Through gene editing, CRISPR has paved the way for different research methods and solutions for diseases, illnesses and even disorders like blindness, for example. This is allowing for the rapid development of diagnostic-level solutions. This DNA vaccine approach was also seen on the world stage with the COVID-19 pandemic vaccine with the goal to “radically reduce the timeline to develop vaccines against current and future viral threats.”
CRISPR has opened the doors for a different experience with medicine.
For genomics research, time is always of the essence as is accuracy. Automated systems for research, processes and development not only has a direct impact on completion rates, but the level of error is greatly reduced.
Mihaela Zavolan of the University of Basel identified this need in 2019 when she said, “What we clearly need are automated methods to process large datasets rapidly and robustly, and then accurate models to identify drivers of gene expression patterns and to map the flow of information in time and across organs upon perturbation.”
Accurate information presented completely with little wait time is not only critical for decision makers, but it is allowing for huge productivity improvements across labs. Bottlenecks like sample preparation, for example, are being eliminated, and technology such as robotic liquid-handling automation is saving costs and improving overall workflows.