A research team at the University of Malta, recently participated in a video competition organized by sequencing company PacBio. The members of this team aim to build up local expertise in genomics and bioinformatics. The team is headed by Dr Jean-Paul Ebejer from the Centre of Molecular Medicine and Biobanking, and also includes Dr Rosienne Farrugia from the Department of Applied Biomedical Science, Dr Sandro Lanfranco from the Department of Biology and Ms Dorita Galea Agius (Ph.D. Student). These researchers are carrying out de novo genome sequencing of two local endemic plants, namely Limonium melitense and L. zeraphae. For this purpose, they participated in the PacBio 2020 Plant and Animal Sciences SMRT Grant Program competition which entailed submitting a 90-seconds video highlighting the importance of their research. The video has been described as “outstanding” and you may watch it on YouTube.
The video script was written by Maria Galea, a student in the Faculty of Science, who also took most of the outdoor photos and some of the videos. The indoor filming, and editing of the video was carried out by Mr James Moffett who is the Audio-Visual & Graphic Design Coordinator at the Marketing, Communications & Alumni Office.
Genomics is a field of genetics that attempts to understand the content, organisation function and evolution of the genetic information contained in the whole genome. While genetics looks at one, or a few genes at a time, genomics looks at the whole picture including gene interactions. It was originally spearheaded by the Human Genome Project which was published in 2003. This was an international collaboration, involving 20 universities from around the world, cost US$ 2.7 billion and took over 10 years to complete.
Since this project, the price of de novo genomics has come down drastically and is now possible with a budget of a few thousand euros. Genomics as a branch of science overlaps with lot of other branches including chemistry, engineering, biology, medicine, pharmacology, ICT, big data science and also ethical, legal and social issues. Huge consortia are carrying out de novo genomics of most branches of life. These projects are deemed to be self-financing due to the downstream applications of the data generated.
Such data can be used in the identification of coding and non-coding genes, identifying disease causing variations which could be both within genes or in the intergenic regions, preventative medicine, pharmacogenetics and targeted therapy, drug discovery, understanding host parasite interactions for effective treatment and prevention, figuring out evolutionary history and phylogeny, identifying intraspecific and interspecific differences, conservation biology, agricultural productivity in changing climatic conditions and expanding human populations, genome editing, and gene therapy.
For more information about this research contact, kindly contact Dr Jean-Paul Ebejer.