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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Multiple Genomes

Published January 3, 2014 5:34 PM by Michael Jones

The concept of genetic mosaics and chimeras in terms of our individual genomes has come up before, but continued research seems to be confirming the suspicion that there is no one individual genome lately. As I discussed in the last article, “chimera” is a term used to describe “a living thing with several populations of cells with different genetic makeup originating from conception,” while a “mosaic” is “‘the presence of two populations of cells with different genotypes in one individual who has developed from a single fertilized egg.’” According to an article from Dark Daily, the genetic phenomenon might be a little more common than originally thought.

The news briefing from Dark Daily noted recent research studies with results showing a larger volume of the population could possess more than one genome, specifically. In laymen’s terms, this essentially means that, while it was originally thought that DNA from a saliva sample would produce the same genetic results as DNA from cells in other areas of the body, the body is now thought to possibly be home to multiple genomes in those other cells.

“[T]hree years ago, suggesting that there was widespread genetic variation in a single body would have been met with skepticism,” said Alexander E. Urban, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, behavioral sciences and genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine, was quoted in the Dark Daily piece. He later continued, “rather than monoliths, our bodies may be mosaics composed of cells whose genomes differ.”

The Dark Daily piece also pointed out possible flaws in past genetic testing -- specifically in the area of forensic science, stating “They use DNA matching to identify criminals or murder victims. Multiple genomes in one person could prove misleading in the identification process.” It also discussed the idea of potentially skewed results for genetic counselors, as differing genomes from differing groups of cells could retain important mutations that might otherwise go overlooked.

As genetic science continues to advance in modern medicine and research, scientists are coming into a greater understanding of the many aspects of our DNA -- and, possibly, the many genomes within our bodies. According to the Dark Daily briefing, “this new knowledge further complicates how genetic testing is used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes,” but the information obtained by the study of genetic mosaics and chimeras also stands to open whole new doors in research. 

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