Monday, December 31, 2007


In biology the genome of an organism is its whole hereditary information and is encoded in the DNA (or, for some viruses, RNA). This includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA. The term was coined in 1920 by Hans Winkler, Professor of Botany at the University of Hamburg, Germany, as a portmanteau of the words gene and chromosome.[1]

More precisely, the genome of an organism is a complete DNA sequence of one set of chromosomes; for example, one of the two sets that a diploid individual carries in every somatic cell. The term genome can be applied specifically to mean the complete set of nuclear DNA (i.e., the "nuclear genome") but can also be applied to organelles that contain their own DNA, as with the mitochondrial genome or the chloroplast genome. When people say that the genome of a sexually reproducing species has been "sequenced," typically they are referring to a determination of the sequences of one set of autosomes and one of each type of sex chromosome, which together represent both of the possible sexes. Even in species that exist in only one sex, what is described as "a genome sequence" may be a composite from the chromosomes of various individuals. In general use, the phrase "genetic makeup" is sometimes used conversationally to mean the genome of a particular individual or organism. The study of the global properties of genomes of related organisms is usually referred to as genomics, which distinguishes it from genetics which generally studies the properties of single genes or groups of genes.

Both the number of base pairs and the number of genes vary widely from one species to another, and there is little connection between the two. At present, the highest known number of genes is around 60,000, for the protozoan causing trichomoniasis (see List of sequenced eukaryotic genomes), almost three times as many as in the human genome.

An analogy to the human genome is that of a book:

  • The book is over one billion words long.
  • The book is bound in 5,000 300 page volumes.
  • The book fits into a cell nucleus the size of a pinpoint.
  • A copy of the book (all 5000 volumes) is contained in every cell (except red blood cells) as a strand of DNA over two metres in length.

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