Academic journal article Alcohol Research

A Watershed Year for an Update on the Genetics of Alcoholism

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

A Watershed Year for an Update on the Genetics of Alcoholism

Article excerpt

It is easy to think of genetics as the study of genes, but given our current knowledge of genetics, this definition is now considered inadequate. Genetics is the study of differences among individuals- even between identical twins. We know that some differences between individuals are linked to variations in DNA sequence (i.e., the genome), but most differences actually are caused by complex interactions between our genetic endowment and the many environments to which we are exposed, by choice and fate.

The genetics underlying the body's responses to alcohol are a superb example of the complexity of the issues related to the study of genetics. The role of the environment-including familial and social setting, age, and exposure-is obvious. Yet a complementary role of genes was doubted for many decades, and it was not put on a firm scientific foundation until the 1970s and 1980s. This coincided roughly with the creation of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) by Congressional act on New Years Eve, 1970.

From its inception, NIAAA has been at the vanguard of research in genetics using an array of powerful methods and resources. The 13 insightful reviews in this issue highlight the cutting edge of molecular and statistical genetic analysis.

Now, moving forward, we can consider 2012 a watershed year in genetics and genomics. Two short years ago, fewer than 10 humans had had their genomes fully sequenced. Today more than 10,000 individuals have been sequenced-a rate of increase that puts Moores Law1 to shame. …

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