By Peter Dearden 02/11/2018

This is the first posting of a blog provided by members of the newly formed New Zealand research organisation; Genomics Aotearoa (GA).

GA is an MBIE platform to improve the use of genomics and bioinformatics in New Zealand, and part of what we do it talking about what might be able to be achieved with these sciences.

Why should you care? Genomics is the science of the genome. A genome is ‘the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism’, according to Wikipedia. As your genetic material has a lot to do with your characteristics, your behaviour, your ancestry and your future, the idea of someone sequencing it may make you nervous. But if that information could help you understand where you come from, what health issues you may or may not have and how they might be passed on to your kids, it may be immensely beneficial.

One of our roles, then, is to work out how to get the beneficial stuff out of genomic science, without trampling on people’s rights or fears, nor having any adverse effect on the environment.

Understanding what can be learnt from a genome or genomes is the realm of bioinformatics. As we have generated more and more genome sequences, from humans and other organisms, the way we have done genetics has moved into a data-rich and computationally intensive one. This requires skills that haven’t been traditional in biological sciences, and GA aims to help build these skills in New Zealand.

Genomics is happening all over the world. This is big science and there is lots of investment in it. The problem is that overseas science will not address the unique challenges that New Zealand faces. If we want to use genomes to improve the health of New Zealanders, the quality of our environments and the efficiency of our agriculture, then this work needs to be carried out here. If we don’t, then our unique peoples, environment and lifestyles will be under-represented in genomic knowledge, and solutions for our problems will simply not be available to us.

GA aims to address New Zealand challenges, while still doing awesome science. Given GA aims to work on New Zealand’s uniqueness, our work must be carried out in partnership with Māori. This means ensuring that we don’t remove people’s rights in the work we do, and that we bring benefit to those communities, or the guardians of the organisms, we work with. We are learning in this space, but hope that we can ensure our work is both respectful and beneficial.

GA will work in New Zealand health, particularly focusing on ensuring health genomics does not create new inequalities, and that it addresses current health imperatives We will work in primary production, supporting cutting-edge genomics for leading industries, and building tools for others to use genomics in plans and animal breeding. We will develop new tools and technologies to support resource management and to help manage our endangered species, something that is not being done overseas – it is our responsibility. And we hope to do all of this while supporting the development of genomic and bioinformatics researchers in New Zealand, and in partnership with Māori.

The aim of this blog is not to talk about what we do, you can read about that on our website, but to give a place for our researchers and partners to unravel the mysteries of genomic science, to talk about what they do and how they do it, and to perhaps give you a route to contact some of the outstanding scientists in Genomics Aotearoa. We welcome those connections.