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December 8, 2003
Volume 81, Number 49
CENEAR 81 49 p. 20
ISSN 0009-2347


Brush Up On Your 'Omics'

The burgeoning fields of genomics and proteomics are spawning multiple "omic" subdisciplines and related areas. The suffix generally refers to the study of a complete grouping or system of biomolecules, such as a genome, containing all of an organism's genes, or its proteome, containing all of its proteins. A few of the more common terms are described here.

Genomics is the scientific study of a genome and the roles that genes play, alone and together, in directing growth and development, and in controlling and determining biological structure and function. As the field has grown, it has been broken down into several major branches.

Structural genomics focuses on the physical aspects of the genome through the construction and comparison of gene maps and sequences, as well as gene discovery, localization, and characterization. At the same time, functional genomics attempts to move data from structural genomics toward biological function by understanding what genes do, how they are regulated, and their activity.

Meanwhile, pharmacogenomics looks at genetic makeup or genetic variations and their connection to drug response. Variations in drug targets, usually proteins, and target pathways are studied to understand how the variations are manifested and how they influence response. The term pharmacogenetics is sometimes used instead, but it can also refer specifically to genetic profiles or tests that predict drug response.

A related area is toxicogenomics, combining toxicology, genetics, molecular biology, and environmental health to elucidate the response of living organisms to stressful environments or toxic agents. Likewise, new drug candidates can be screened through a combination of gene expression profiling and toxicology to understand gene response and possibly predict safety.

In drug discovery, chemical genomics, or chemogenomics, involves screening chemical compounds against genes or gene products, such as proteins or other targets. Through this functional analysis, researchers hope to elicit gene response, tease out drug candidates, and identify and validate therapeutic targets.

Epigenomics takes a whole-genome approach to studying environmental or developmental epigenetic effects, primarily DNA methylation, on gene function. Thus, epigenomics focuses on those genes whose function is determined by external factors.

Proteomics studies all of an organism's proteins or proteome. This can contain thousands of proteins, which, even within a given organism or cell, can vary depending on cell or tissue type, disease state, and other factors.

To decipher a proteome, proteomics begins with the systematic separation and identification of all proteins within a cell, tissue, or other biological sample. This is followed by protein characterization, including structure, as through structural proteomics, and then determination of protein function and interaction within and between cells via functional proteomics.

Analogous to proteins and proteomics, metabolomics, or metabonomics, is the study of all the metabolites of a cell or organism. Identifying and quantifying these components helps to reveal cellular regulation, pathways, activity, and response under normal and other conditions.

Likewise, transcriptomics looks to unravel all of the cellular messenger RNA transcripts of an organism, often produced under a variety of conditions, while the term ribonomics has been used to describe the subset of mRNAs that bind with proteins.

As different research areas adopt genomic or proteomic approaches, a stream of "omic" terms--modified by adjectives including clinical, microbial, plant, animal, environmental, predictive, comparative, differential, and computational--continues to emerge.

The more encompassing term proteogenomics has been coined to describe the merging of genomics, proteomics, small molecules, and informatics. And covering all the bases but working backwards researchers can take a deconstructive approach through reverse proteomics and reverse genomics.

SOURCES: Biotechnology Industry Organization, Cambridge Healthtech Institute

Cover Story
Small technology providers and major drug firms become allies to find the causes of disease, to validate targets, and to understand drug response

Brush Up On Your 'Omics'

Proteomics Emerges As The Next Frontier

FDA Offers Guidelines On Pharmacogenomic Data


Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2003 American Chemical Society

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