Monday, December 31, 2007

Genome - Types

Most biological entities more complex than a virus sometimes or always carry additional genetic material besides that which resides in their chromosomes. In some contexts, such as sequencing the genome of a pathogenic microbe, "genome" is meant to include this auxiliary material, which is carried in plasmids. In such circumstances then, "genome" describes all of the genes and non-coding DNA that have the potential to be present.

In vertebrates such as sheep and other various animals however, "genome" carries the typical connotation of only chromosomal DNA. So although human mitochondria contain genes, these genes are not considered part of the genome. In fact, mitochondria are sometimes said to have their own genome, often referred to as the "mitochondrial genome".

Genomes and genetic variation

Note that a genome does not capture the genetic diversity or the genetic polymorphism of a species. For example, the human genome sequence in principle could be determined from just half the DNA of one cell from one individual. To learn what variations in DNA underlie particular traits or diseases requires comparisons across individuals. This point explains the common usage of "genome" (which parallels a common usage of "gene") to refer not to any particular DNA sequence, but to a whole family of sequences that share a biological context.

Although this concept may seem counter intuitive, it is the same concept that says there is no particular shape that is the shape of a cheetah. Cheetahs vary, and so do the sequences of their genomes. Yet both the individual animals and their sequences share commonalities, so one can learn something about cheetahs and "cheetah-ness" from a single example of either.

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