‘Genetic revolution’: How genetics touches 4 areas of life

From agriculture to space and forensics to health care, genetics improvements are changing the way we live.

By: Sanford Health News .

Dr. Sherin Shaaban, who will talk about genetic revolution
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Just picture, 75 or 100 years ago, being told to imagine a world where a handheld device could connect you to everyone on the planet. Or that you could instantly know what is happening across the world without leaving your home.

What was once fantasy has become our current reality. Now, we are at a similar place today with genetics: Genetics is improving every aspect of life.

Sherin Shaaban, M.D., Ph.D., a lab director at Sanford Health, said, “From the animals we touch to the plants we eat to what we learn about the universe, advancements in genetics are touching every area of the universe.”

Dr. Shaaban will elaborate on this theme in a lecture called “The Genetic Revolution: Genetic Applications in our Daily Life” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, at the Sanford Imagenetics Courtyard.

Genetics provides many answers about what makes something unique but also what makes it similar to everything else that exists.

Living things are made up of cells. Within a cell is all the genetic information, called DNA, that makes the living thing itself.

DNA is a complex molecule guiding growth, development, function and reproduction. This genetic information is written as a code of instructions. How the code is written determines everything about the living organism –- appearance, behavior, survival, health and more.

By understanding genetics, we can use some of its tools to make life better for all. Here are four ways genetics is improving everyday life.

Agriculture

Humans have been engineering life for thousands of years. Through selecting what animals or which plants breed with one another, humans have been strengthening useful traits and removing weak ones. Past generations simply did not understand the science behind what was occurring until humans discovered the code of life, or genetics.

“Genetic engineering plants can make them resistant to diseases or to certain viruses or fungi that can kill off an entire crop,” Dr. Shaaban said. “It can also make them resist harsh weather conditions or droughts and can also increase crop production.

“When farmers are selecting the best bull to breed, they are genetic engineering. They may not think about it that way, but the animal is selected because it looks the best, is the strongest and so on — all features determined by the animal’s own genetics.”

Space

“All the attempts to go further, to travel to the moon or Mars, the material that is collected is sent to be tested for any traces of genetic material reflecting life,” said Dr. Shaaban. “Scientists are trying to determine what materials are on other planets, if there are the correct organic materials for life to exist, or how such material can be used to help humans and our planet.”

Forensics and missing persons

DNA is one of the most essential assets at a crime scene, providing insight into who was there before, during and after a crime. Advances in science have led to precise techniques that mean more can be learned from smaller samples of DNA.

Regardless of whether it is recent evidence or an uncovered body that is hundreds of years old, a small tissue sample provides amazing answers about identity, health, even lifestyle.

Health care

Just like in forensics, health care can use DNA to discover a patient’s inherited disease risk, drug interactions and more. Combining this information with the patient’s family history, personal history and other non-genetic risk factors can help plan a health map for a patient with the hope of improving health over a lifetime.

“The revolution in genetics — with regards to health care — has helped us understand more about the causes of diseases,” Dr. Shaaban said. “That simply means we can find ways to prevent disease, to limit its negative health effects and to help individuals plan a healthier life. And hopefully in the near future, we will even be able to treat such inherited disorders.”

To learn more about genetics, call (605) 312-GENE.

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