Do we need another “-omics”?

If you are reading this blog it seems likely that you’ll have at least a passing familiarity with some (perhaps even many) kinds of “-omics”. Increasingly for every conceivable “-ome” there is a corresponding “-omics” aimed at the “collective characterisation and quantification of pools of biological molecules that translate into the structure, function, and dynamics of an organism or organisms” (well said Wikipedia!). Indeed a quick google reveals a long list of “-omes” each the target of study for an associated group of dedicated “-omics” researchers. The ease with which one can find commentary espousing the power of “-omics” to revolutionise < insert field of study here > coupled with the rapid spread of these neologisms through the scientific literature might even tempt the more cynical among us to utter those most scientifically contemptuous terms “buzz word” or “fishing trip” when discussing the latest results from some or another “-omic” study.

Full disclosure: I have occupied precisely this position. However, I write now as a (surprised) convert. This change evolved stealthily and I recognised my new position only recently; I had occasion to be evangelising about the importance of bioinorganic chemistry to fundamental biology (as is my want) and realised I am completely comfortable with the terms “metallome” and “metallomics”. On reflection this struck me as hypocritical, how suspicious that the “-omics” I hold in high esteem – metallomics – happens to be the very one pertaining to my area of study? …

Obviously my personal relegation of “-omics” to the “buzz-word” bin stemmed from ignorance. By necessity every scientist carves out a small portion of nature to chip away at while we look for insight and the great number of “-omics” simply reflects the diversity of worthy biochemical mysteries that remain to be solved. While each “-omics” has its star, be they genes, proteins, mRNA or metals, I am hearted to realize that the spread of “-omics” reflects researchers seeking greater context for their investigations. While establishing that A+B ⇄ C remains the cornerstone of the fruitful reductionist approache to biochemistry the benefit of “-omics” is that this interaction can be seen in a more complete way. I think Hiroki Haraguchi from Nagoya University, in his 2004 JAAS article, does a great job of contextualising metallomics by making the point that genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, metallomics etc. must all develop together.

I for one am excited to be following my line of metal biology focused enquiry as part of our collective effort to understand how the physical processes occurring inside the bags of chemicals we call cells ultimately gives rise to such interesting biology.

Posted in Irons in the fire: News from our lab

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