Having worked on various genomics projects that included human, bovine and the SARS coronavirus, Steven Jones, Co-Director and Head of Bioinformatics of the Genome Sciences Centre at the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver, is well versed in the potential, development and application of genomics. As he said in his presentation, “Cancer is a genetic disease. [And] livestock too is all about the genetics.”
In many ways, human cancer genomics and treatment can be considered the “pointy end of the stick” given the cost and complexity of pursuing these solutions. In spite of this, parallels are plentiful, and the tools developed in the human sphere often trickle down to our pets and livestock. For example, understanding how and why certain genomic variations differentiate between an aggressive and benign tumour allows us to manage the tumour appropriately. This ability provides value in the same manner as understanding the variants that result in Angus instead of Hereford cattle.
These days, the computational analysis (not the sequencing effort) consumes most of the resources in the process of teasing out the genomic variations, insertions, deletions, copy number variations, regions where zero heterozygosity remains (indicating the loss of a chromosome) and expression necessary to develop genetically specific treatment protocols.
In doing this, the processes flow from discovering knowledge, learning how best to understand and interpret it, and transferring it to the end user, be they clinician or producer. Communication is always the critical element: “Some buy into it [the technology], and some have yet to be convinced. It’s a huge endeavour.”
Either way, for Jones, it’s a team pursuit involving 24 individuals across multiple disciplines who sequence [about] one human genome a day, progressing the science and ultimately looking for a cure.