Biotech 101 Series

The field of biotechnology, particularly as it relates to genomics and DNA-based discoveries, has grown exponentially over the past 15 years. We are on the threshold of a world where biotechnology influences daily decisions about foods we eat, energy we use, the ways we monitor the world and choices we make about health and well-being. To responsibly evaluate these choices we need a society that is well educated about DNA, the role of genetics in disease and the impact of biotechnology on agriculture, medicine and the environment.

Biotech 101 is an ongoing series developed by Dr. Neil Lamb, director of educational outreach for the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. Each lesson is designed to help each of us understand biotechnology basics and the tools and technologies that improve quality of life.

Biotech 101 Archive:

Genome-wide Association Studies
Over the last twenty five years, much progress has been made to identify the genetic causes of what are commonly known as “single gene disorders”. These diseases, which include cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, phenylketonuria and Huntington disease, result from changes in the DNA sequence of a single gene…Read more.


boxerComparative Genomics
In 1995, scientists deciphered the complete genetic sequence of Haemophilus influenzae – a bacteria which causes the flu. This marked the first time an organism’s genome had been sequenced and helped usher in the era of genomics – the study of an organism’s entire collection of DNA. Since that time…Read More.

Of all the disorders, diseases and illnesses, few today are as universally feared as cancer. More than 1,500 Americans die from cancer each day. In the United States, the lifetime risk of developing cancer is nearly 1 in 2 for men and slightly more than 1 in 3 for women. The American Cancer Society estimates in Alabama alone, 22,340 individuals will develop some form of cancer this year…Read More.

Copy Number Variation – Another way the genetic recipe differs
Imagine you are a member of a book club focused on cookbooks. You and your fellow members agree to try the same set of recipes from a particular volume and meet to discuss the cooking (and eating) experience. When you come together at the next meeting, there is a definite opinion split on the resulting dishes…Read More.

The Human Genome Project: looking back, looking ahead
Five years ago this spring, the “completion” of the Human Genome Project (HGP) was announced with much fanfare. This 13-year collaboration identified the sequence of the 3 billion chemical bases of information that reside on 46 chromosomes in nearly every cell in our body. The published DNA sequence was akin to…Read More.

RNAi – understanding the process
Much like turning off a light switch, RNA interference (RNAi) offers the ability to selectively silence or “turn off” the activity of a single gene. This technology has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of how genes work and offers new promise in therapy and treatment. The 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine was awarded to…Read More.

DNA Microarray – Studying activity of genes
“The ability of an organism to live and function depends upon the activity of thousands of genes and the complex interaction between those genes and the proteins they produce. A powerful laboratory tool, a DNA microarray, provides a glimpse into this world of genetic interactions by distinguishing cells based on the activity of their genes.”Read More.

Epigenetics – flipping the genetic “switch”
Recent discoveries have shed light on how genes alternate between silent and active states. These activity patterns appear to be susceptible to environmental influences, with serious health consequences that stretch across generations. Identical twins (who share the same genetic information) are exactly alike – or are they?...Read More.

Personalized Medicine
Imagine, in the not-to-distant future, sitting in the doctor’s office for an annual physical. Your doctor draws a blood sample and adds a panel of genetic markers to the usual list of tests. Some of these tests search for genetic sequences in your DNA that alter the risk of developing specific diseases. Others predict how you will respond to certain medications, identifying those that will be most effective...Read More.