Recent years have seen the entry of unfamiliar words into the mainstream, no doubt promulgated by widespread use of the Internet and social media. The health and wellness sphere is no exception; new buzz words seemingly enter the healthcare lexicon constantly, and you may already have noticed given the prevalence of words ending in the suffix, “-omics”: genomics, nutrigenomics, metabolomics, to name a few. Countless news articles including these words and their concepts appear to be published with great frequency – on a nearly daily basis, or so it seems.
The suffix “-ology” refers to the study of a general subject (e.g. biology = study of life, psychology = study of the mind, theology = study of God), while “-omics” is more specific in that it refers to a field of study within molecular biology. In the same way that words like “selfie” and “social media” were not in our vocabulary even a decade ago, the terms below are relatively new but will likely become household words in the future.
In an age of personalized medicine, these are some basic “-omics” with which to become familiar:
- Genomics: a field of study in biology that focuses on genes, typically in humans. The entire set of genes that humans carry is referred to as the human genome, and the study of the human genome is called genomics. This is slightly different from the study of specific genes, which we know as genetics. Simply stated, genomics refers to the study of all genes while genetics refers to the study of specific genes.
- Nutrigenomics: the study of nutrient impact (from either food or supplements) on gene expression. Scientists have confirmed that nutrition can affect genetic expression profoundly. The interaction of nutrients (or lack of nutrients) and genes and how they are expressed is currently a trending research focus.
- Metabolomics: a field of study in molecular biology that focuses on metabolites (the products of cellular metabolism). Like a genome, a metabolome is the entire set of metabolites that occurs in an organism. The study of the entire system of metabolic processes is called metabolomics.
- Microbiomics: the study of the microbiome, which refers to bacteria (and their genes) present in the human body, especially in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Pharmacogenomics: this refers to the study of identifying how a person’s genetic makeup affects their response to pharmaceutical drugs, including how they metabolize or absorb certain medications.
- Lipidomics: the study of lipids (fats) within biological systems, such as how fats convert into healthy or unhealthy fats, and how certain lipids influence obesity, inflammation, or heart disease.
- Proteomics: the study of all the proteins relevant to a biological system.
Advances in molecular biology are constantly shedding new light on the way the human body functions at the cellular level. As innovation continues, you can expect the terms above will become more commonplace, and related terms more numerous: the –omics are here to stay!