The "omic" mystery

Emerging areas of research might need some deciphering

In the January issue of Petfood Industry , I wrote about a recent trip to the Nestlé Purina Nutrition Forum. At that meeting, the subject of the various "omic" disciplines and how they apply to nutrition research was brought up. In my column, I mentioned a few of those strange and confusing names (i.e., genomics, nutrigenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, etc.) but didn't get into too much detail about them. If you are confounded by all these names and their meanings, as I am, we are going to try to figure some of them out right now.

What's an "ome"?

Modern bioscience is constantly developing new technologies with the potential to transform researchers' ability to understand and manipulate living organisms. Many of those techniques end with the suffix "-omics." What does this term really mean? In general, "omes" stems from the Greek word for "all," "every" or "complete."

According to Wikipedia (, an online encyclopedia, the original use of the suffix "ome" was in the word "genome," which refers to the complete genetic makeup of an organism. Because of the success of large-scale quantitative biology projects such as genome sequencing, the suffix "ome" has been extended to a host of other contexts. Bioinformaticians and molecular biologists were among the first scientists to start to apply the "ome" suffix widely.

Glossary of terms

The Cambridge Healthtech Institute maintains a website where most of the following definitions can be found (


According to Wikipedia, genomics is the study of an organism's genome and the use of the genes. It deals with the systematic use of genome information, associated with other data, to provide answers in biology, medicine and industry. Genomics has the potential of offering new therapeutic methods for the treatment of some diseases, as well as new diagnostic methods. Other applications are in the food and agriculture sectors. The major tools and methods related to genomics are bioinformatics, genetic analysis, measurement of gene expression and determination of gene function.


Depicts the expression level of genes, often using techniques capable of sampling tens of thousands of different mRNA molecules at a time (e.g., DNA microarrays). The complete protein complement of a system is referred to as its "proteome." Studying the transcriptome remains an important part of researching the circuits of life ("metabolome").


The study of the metabolite profiles in biological samples. Although there is some debate over what the field should actually be called, scientists are pushing forward to find uses for metabolomic profiling, a clinical option that is comparatively cheap and non-invasive. The general aim of metabolomics is to identify, measure and interpret the complex time-related concentration, activity and flux of endogenous metabolites in cells, tissues and other biosamples such as blood, urine and saliva. Metabolites include small molecules that are the products and intermediates of metabolism, as well as carbohydrates, peptides and lipids.


The large-scale, high-throughput analysis of proteins. Proteomics represents the effort to establish the identities, quantities, structures and biochemical and cellular functions of all proteins in an organism, organ or organelle, and how these properties vary in space, time and physiological state. Proteomics is expected to have a profound impact on the drug discovery and development process. Proteomics promises to yield drugs with reduced side effects and improve clinical trial success.


The large-scale study of non-water-soluble metabolites (lipids). Key technologies used in lipidomics research include electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI/MS) and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. Lipidomics is a rapidly-expanding research field in which multiple techniques are utilized to quantitate the hundreds of chemically-distinct lipids in cells and determine the molecular mechanisms through which they facilitate cellular function. Recent developments in (ESI/MS) have made possible the precise identification and quantification of alterations in a cell's lipidome after cellular disturbances.


The application of the sciences of genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics to nutrition, especially the relationship between nutrition and health. Nutrition and health research is focused on the prevention of disease by optimizing and maintaining cellular, tissue, organ and whole-body homeostasis. This requires understanding, and ultimately regulating, a multitude of nutrient-related interactions at the gene, protein and metabolic levels. These new disciplines and their attendant technologies are changing the paradigms of health research. Nutrigenomics is associated with the issue of personalized nutrition, since claims are being made that differences in genotype should result in differences in the diet and health relationship.

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