Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), or ‘Snips,’ are the most common genetic variation in humans. We all have somewhere near 10 million SNPs in our DNA. For the most part, SNPs have no effect on health or development, but these variations can provide valuable insight into the study of human health, identify possible markers on genetic predisposition to certain types of disease, as well as help physicians decide which treatment plan would work best for each patient.
Scientist are working ways to collect and map this information in order to create a database that can be used to correlate information from SNPs to that of certain predispositions. There are two different approaches to these enormous gene maps that scientists are trying to create:
The Genomic Approach
This is the big picture way of processing the data. Several institutions with large-scale projects are teaming up to combine efforts in identifying and cataloging in the 3-billion-base pair human genome. Each project is working to compare the difference of numerous individuals genetics, a monstrous task that requires hundreds of scientists per project.
The data compiled during this research is added to databases that are freely accessible.
The Functional Approach
Some scientists who specialize in a certain disease, or are looking to research a particular drug response, may take the functional approach. Specific genes control the body’s response to disease or drug treatments. In the functional approach, scientists choose the genes known to be involved in a process, and study those genes in people with or without a certain disease or response to a treatment. When studying these gene sequences, they can gauge which SNPs are markers for specific responses or predispositions.
The benefits of SNP data are nearly as numerous as SNPs themselves.
Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is a growing public threat. Determining a genetic marker for early identification and ultimately a treatment for the disease has never been more important. Many scientists seeking to treat the symptoms and ultimately find a cure find that the lack of understanding in the heterogeneity and granularity of the disease make achieving a breakthrough incredibly difficult.
The general consensus is that the best way to fight Alzheimer’s is staving off the onset of the disease before it starts. SNPs could hold the key to treating this and many other debilitating diseases.