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What is genetics?

Genetics is the field of study that is concerned with heredity and how particular qualities or traits are passed on from parents to offspring. These can be simple physical traits such as height or hair colour as well as complex disease susceptibilities.

Medical genetics is both a clinical specialty and a basic science. It makes it possible to gain a greater understanding of the function of health and disease in the human body.

Rapid advancements in genetics and genetic technology are creating opportunities for the understanding, prevention, treatment and cure of human diseases.

What about genomics?

Traditionally, the practice of genetics has been concerned with conditions or diseases such as cystic fibrosis or Huntington disease, which are caused by mutations in single genes. However, the focus on genetics and single genes is shifting towards multiple genes (genomics) and gene-environment interactions (epigenetics).  The interaction between genes, mutations and health is discussed in greater detail in the following section.

Technology is increasing our understanding of more complex genetic disorders, such as cancer and diabetes, which are influenced by a range of factors including the impact of environment. This has resulted in a more mainstream approach to the application of genetics and genomics to a wide variety of clinical problems in the healthcare setting.

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Page reviewed: 16 December, 2013