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This EarthWord tells you who and what you are REALLY…

EarthWords is an on-going series in which we shed some light on the complicated, often difficult-to-pronounce language of science. Think of us as your terminology tour-guides, and meet us back here every week for a new word!


White sucker (Catostomus commersonii)
White sucker (Catostomus commersonii) are a widespread fish native to streams and rivers of the eastern United States. White sucker skin and liver tumors are used to monitor aquatic animal health in the Great Lakes. Tumors serve as an ecosystem benchmark in both initiatives that aim to clean up legacy chemicals and in initiatives monitoring the effects of chemicals of emerging concern such as hormones, phytoestrogens, pharmaceuticals, flame retardants, and personal care products.(Credit: Dave Kazyak, USGS. Public domain.)

The EarthWord: Genomics


  • Computers were not the first to use code. Genomics is a field of science that determines the structure and function and explains an organism’s complete collection of DNA, including all it’s genes.


  • Gene+omics-  The study of the complete genome of an organism
  • The first known use of the word was in 1987, when the new journal Genomics was published. Writing in the journal, V. A. McKusik and F. H. Ruddle credit T. H. Roderick of the Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine, for suggesting the term which described the newly developing discipline of mapping/sequencing (including analysis of the information). “The new discipline is born from a marriage of molecular and cell biology with classical genetics and is fostered by computational science." (A new discipline, a new name, a new journal [editorial]. Genomics 1987 Sep. 1:1-2.)

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community:

  • Genomics applies directly to environmental sciences. By assessing genes in environmental samples (from plants and animals), we can determine the roles different communities play in environmental processes (such as nutrient cycling), or changes in community composition that occur across environments. Conservation genomics helps support healthy biological communities and maintain ecosystem services.
genome map of the circular white sucker hepadnavirus genome
This is a genome map of the circular white sucker hepadnavirus genome. (Public domain.)


  • USGS scientists develop methods and characterize how the genome of an organism functionally responds to environmental conditions including exposure to biotic and abiotic stressors. Examples include responses to thermal stress or contaminant exposure.
  • USGS scientists have used genomics to assess genomic differences within and among species. These differences are used to identify biologically-appropriate units of management to aid in the conservation of rare, threatened, and endangered species.
  • In addition, our scientists evaluate host-pathogen interactions at the molecular level by evaluating the expression of genes in the context of final health outcome.  

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