Genomics Program
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Frequently Asked Questions




What is the difference between genetics and genomics?

Genetics is the study of single genes and their effects. For example, Huntington's or Tay-Sachs disease would be considered "genetics" because a single gene causes these diseases, despite environmental interactions.

Genomics is the study of all your genes including interactions of those genes with each other and with your environment. For example, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, and cancer would all be considered "genomics" because they are caused by genetic and environmental factors.

Think of it like a math problem...

Genomics = Genes+Environment+Genes



How does genomics apply to public health?

Genomics can affect everyone in public health. In fact 9 of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. (2001) have a known genetic component.

*Heart Disease
*Chronic lower respiratory diseases

?Accidents/unintentional injuries
*Influenza and pneumonia
*Alzheimer's disease
*Kidney disease

Remember that genetics is just one piece of the puzzle! Diseases can be caused by genetics, environment, or an interaction between the two. Public health wouldn't dream about ignoring diet or exercise in interventions for heart disease or diabetes and the same thinking should apply to the genetic component of disease. Genomics holds promise to revolutionize public health by providing us with the knowledge to identify those at high risk and target interventions specifically to them that will prevent and treat diseases more effectively.



How does genomics affect health?

We've all heard stories about people who exercised their whole lives, ate a healthy diet, got regular checkups and died of a heart attack at age 40. We've also heard stories about people who smoked, never exercised, ate unhealthy foods and lived to be 100. What's the difference between these individuals? Perhaps genomics holds the key to understanding why some genetic variations, interacting with certain environmental factors, protect us from disease while others predispose us to disease.



Is there a tool that I can use to apply genomics in my program right now?

Yes! Family history is a genomic tool available to you right now. Family history is a reflection of both genetic and environmental factors. It is a cost-effective and efficient tool that can identify high risk individuals and populations and can also help you target interventions to those at highest risk. Read more...



What are gene-environment and gene-gene interactions?

Common chronic diseases are the result of gene-environment interactions. This included interactions between your genes and your environment, such as pollutants in the air or water, infections, diet, exercise, weight, smoking and alcohol use, sun exposure, and even stress.

Disease may also be caused by gene-gene interactions. For example mutations in certain genes such as the BRCA 1 and 2 genes can increase one's risk of breast cancer. Remember though that the majority of genetic mutations have no harmful health effects. Some diseases may also be caused by multiple "mutated" genes interacting with each other and the environment to predispose individuals to disease. Heart disease is an example of a complex disease that can have many different genes interacting with each other and the environment to cause disease.



What should I know about genomics?

Check out the CDC Genomics Competencies to see what specific skills you need to know in order to apply genomics to your job.



Where can I learn more?

Still confused? Email your questions to us at or check out our educational materials below.

Genomics and You: what is it and why now? - PowerPoint presentation adapted from the CDC Genomics for Public Health Practioners presentation.

Genomics and You newsletter pdf

Current Projects - view presentations given to a variety of programs and groups.



"Most if not all human
disease results from the interaction between
genetic susceptibility
and environmental
factors-broadly defined
to include infectious, chemical, physical, nutritional and
behavioral factors."

Muin J. Khoury,
Director CDC Office of
Genomics and Disease Prevention