Skip to main content

About the IGB


In the broadest sense, genomics is the study of the DNA within organisms. DNA is the classic double helix molecule you probably saw in a biology class, often called the “blueprint for life”. This is because DNA contains instructions for an organism’s life story — how it develops, grows, survives, and reproduces.



These instructions are broken into distinct pieces called genes, which code for specific things, and this entire collection of an organism’s genes is called the genome. The human genome has between 20,000 and 25,000 genes, all with different variants, called alleles, which give way to the complexity and variety of traits we see around us. Usually, the different traits that make us unique, like our eye color and height, for example, are controlled by multiple genes. But some traits can be altered by a change in a single gene, such as whether someone has cystic fibrosis, the overproduction of mucus in the lungs.

So how do the instructions of genes lead to physical results, such as the way we look? Typically, genes are just instructions for how to create proteins, which are the building blocks of everything in living organisms, from tissues and organs, to hormones and chemical signals in the body. Copies of the DNA are created by mRNA, or messenger RNA, which carries this information to ribosomes in the cell. Ribosomes are then able to string together amino acids using the mRNA’s instructions to make the appropriate protein.


Looking for a quick introduction? Check out this video to get acquainted with genomics. Presentation at the World of Genomics, Field Museum, 2016. / Mirhee Lee


Genomics affects every aspect of our lives, meaning the benefits of studying genomics span multiple areas in science. Many ailments in humans and animals are related in some way to our genomes. Gaining a deeper understanding of our genomes can help us better detect and prevent diseases like cancer or diabetes, create more effective and personalized treatments to tackle those diseases, and discover new drug treatments through synthetically engineered microbes, which can be designed to produce unique, natural biomaterials.

We can also genetically engineer plants to improve their survival in a warming world, efficiently producing more food to feed a growing population. Engineered plants and products from engineered microbes can then be used to produce greener fuels to help power the world.

Studying the genomics of organisms can also tell us about their evolution, the influence of their environment on their genome, and ultimately how to best conserve them. Genomics can tell us a lot about ourselves as well, giving us a window into how our genes and environment interact to shape many aspects of our lives. Genomic research is a rich and compelling field, full of potential opportunity not only within the field of biology, but for society at large.

Explore below to learn more

IGB's YouTube channel

Looking for the latest seminar speakers, IGB Lunchbox presentations, Outreach activities, and more? Visit our YouTube page.


Genomics for Law (MOOC)

The IGB in partnership with the College of Law offers Genomics for Law, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) which provides a unique framework to review the history and basics of genomics research as well as explore how genomics has, and will continue to, interact with the law. The course explores the implications of genomics research on law, as well as law's influence and implications on genomics research, as it pertains to the following topics: Genomics and criminal law, genomics and criminal procedure, forensic genomics, intellectual property protection and biotechnology, GMO policy, law, and regulation, genomics and tort law, genomics and privacy law, and legal and ethical issues in genomics.

This course can be taken to fulfill continuing legal education (CLE) credits for practicing lawyers. 9.5 MCLE hours have been approved in Illinois.


Genomics: Decoding the Universal Language of Life (MOOC)

The IGB's beginner level course, “Genomics: Decoding the Universal Language of Life," contains 6 weeks of study and encompasses topics drawn from the IGB’s expansive research portfolio such as how genes work, why microbes play such an important role chemically, how DNA sequencing can be used to predict risk to health and wellness, and what differences exist in genetically modified plants.

IGB Director and Swanlund Chair Gene Robinson is the main instructor for this course. In addition, each module features several guest instructors. These guest instructors come from diverse fields of study—biology, physics, computer science, and many others—and pursue diverse research goals, yet they share a common interest in genomic approaches and technologies.


Emergence of Life (MOOC)

How did life emerge on Earth? How have life and Earth co-evolved through geological time? Is life elsewhere in the universe? Take a look through the 4-billion-year history of life on Earth through the lens of the modern Tree of Life.

The pioneering work of Professor Carl R. Woese on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus has revolutionized our understanding of the fundamental structure and evolutionary relatedness of all living entities on Earth. This has resulted in a new "Tree of Life" and a first ever understanding of what life looked like before the base of the root of the Tree had evolved.

This course evaluates the entire history of life on Earth within the context of our cutting-edge understanding of the Tree of Life. This includes reconnaissance of ancient primordial life before the first cell had evolved, the entire ~4-billion-year development of single- and multi-celled life through the lens of the Tree of Life, and the influence of Earth system processes (meteor impacts, volcanoes, ice sheets) on shaping and structuring the Tree.  This synthesis emphasizes the universality of the emergence of life as a prelude for the search for extraterrestrial life.

Please join this unique 8-week journey through history, evolution, geologic change, and discovery of the universality of Life.