Why you don't possess the same genes you're born with

Unveiling the changing genetic landscape: The SMaHT project maps genome diversity

DNA-strand-turning-into-a-human-figure Unlocking genetic mysteries

The blueprint of your identity, your genes, is not a static entity but a fluid landscape, constantly reshaping itself over a lifetime. Recent advances in DNA sequencing have shattered the long-standing notion that our genetic makeup remains unchanged from birth. Rather, our DNA is a dynamic tapestry, undergoing mutations from embryonic development through adulthood. This transformative genetic phenomenon, termed somatic mosaicism, has now taken center stage with the launch of a groundbreaking initiative - the Somatic Mosaicism Across Human Tissues (SMaHT) program by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Genes, the short segments of DNA encoding instructions for our traits, are the foundational elements of our identity. They determine traits like eye and hair color, height, and even susceptibility to diseases. Each individual inherits two versions of a gene - one from each parent. However, these genes are not immutable, uniform entities. They are composed of millions of bases, the chemical units forming the genetic code, which can undergo changes over time.

Contrary to earlier beliefs that a person's genome remains constant, research using large-scale DNA sequencing has revealed a surprising truth. Mutations emerge in the DNA early in embryonic development and continue to accumulate throughout life. This genetic variability, spanning different tissues within the body and even within the same organ or tissue, forms the basis of somatic mosaicism. Understanding the implications of these mutations on health and diseases is the driving force behind the SMaHT program.

Decoding SMaHT 

2184434279 A DNA molecule

The SMaHT initiative, a visionary $140 million project by the NIH, seeks to unravel the mysteries of somatic mosaicism. Collaborating with 22 research teams, the program aims to collect tissue samples from 150 healthy donors and analyze DNA sequences from 15 distinct tissues. Employing cutting-edge techniques like RNA sequencing and duplex sequencing, researchers strive to uncover rare mutations amidst the genetic noise. The objective is to catalog these mutations and establish their connections to a spectrum of diseases, ranging from cancers to neurological disorders.

The implications of somatic mosaicism are profound. Studies have indicated that these mutations can influence diverse health conditions, including cardiovascular diseases, neurological disorders, and even cancer. By analysing the genetic changes that occur within specific tissues, researchers hope to unveil the mechanisms through which these mutations exert their influence.

While many aspects of somatic mosaicism remain enigmatic, the SMaHT program marks a monumental stride in the field of genetics. By shedding light on the dynamic nature of our genetic landscape, this initiative holds the potential to redefine our understanding of human biology, health, and disease. As the scientific community embarks on this transformative journey, we stand at the threshold of an era where our genetic identity is no longer static but a constantly evolving narrative, painting the portrait of our lives in unprecedented detail.

While many questions remain unanswered, SMaHT's efforts represent a monumental leap in human genetics.