Genomics is the Real Deal

It’s time. I have been with Illumina for 20+ months and haven’t said much about it. It’s not because I haven’t wanted to; it’s because, frankly, it can be a bit intimidating for someone without a science background to try to explain what we do.

Illumina is a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and integrated systems for large-scale analysis of genetic variation and function. Impressive, right? I have learned a lot from the very smart people that make up our employee population. We have Ph.D. bioinformatic scientists, engineers and other scientific specialists that allow us to do what we do. Now you can see why someone like myself, who does not have a scientific background, might feel a bit intimidated.

But it’s important for me to start sharing with you the magic of Illumina, and that is because we are on an amazing mission—to improve human health by unlocking the power of the genome. It is the most inclusive mission I have ever experienced. When we say human, we mean every human, and that makes me excited to go to work every day.

Now some of you are saying, what does it mean to unlock the power of the genome? I know. I said the same thing, but we don’t get better by standing on the sidelines. We wade in. We practice. So let’s talk about this genome and why it should matter to you.

The genome is the totality of our genetic code. You remember high school science, where we learned about DNA and how we inherited traits from our parents? I’m talking about right-handedness versus left-handedness, or having an attached earlobe or not. Well, every human has their unique genome, and 99.9% of that genetic code is exactly the same for everyone. There is only 0.1% that differs and explains our differences. Here’s the thing—0.1% sounds small, and it is relative to the entire genome, but the entire genome is more than 6 billion letters. If stretched out in length, it would make up 6,000 trips to the moon and back or 600 times to the sun. That’s a lot of code.

Here is why this is important to all of us. The more we understand the entire genome, the easier it will be to see the small changes in the code that signal disease. It’s that small deviation in genetic code that tells us who has a higher likelihood of developing cancer or heart disease, for example. Reading the code cuts down on the trial and error way in which we practice medicine today. If we can skip ahead and read the code and determine the deviations, we can get to answers faster. And if you are fighting cancer, time matters a lot.

Reading an individual’s genetic code and comparing it to a large, diverse body of genetic code will help us see the deviations and get to better diagnosis and better treatment for all. That is unlocking the power of the genome. It means making genome sequencing available to everyone regardless of economic status or geographic location. It means creating a revolution by improving human health for everyone. This is all about equity, diversity, and inclusion. It is about health. It is about well-being, and it is about all of us. Now do you see why I am excited every day?

Lesson 1 complete. More to come, but in the meantime, answer this question—had you heard of genomics before reading this blog?

Dr. Lisa

Our theme song for wading in on a topic not so familiar is “ABC” by the Jackson 5.



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