Environmental OMICS: Current Status and Future Directions
Objectives: Applications of OMICS to high throughput studies of changes of genes, RNAs, proteins, metabolites, and their associated functions in cells or organisms exposed to environmental chemicals has led to the emergence of a very active research field: environmental OMICS. This developing field holds an important key for improving the scientific basis for understanding the potential impacts of environmental chemicals on both health and the environment. Here we describe the state of environmental OMICS with an emphasis on its recent accomplishments and its problems and potential solutions to facilitate the incorporation of OMICS into mainstream environmental and health research.
Data sources: We reviewed relevant and recently published studies on the applicability and usefulness of OMICS technologies to the identification of toxicity pathways, mechanisms, and biomarkers of environmental chemicals for environmental and health risk monitoring and assessment, including recent presentations and discussions on these issues at The First International Conference on Environmental OMICS (ICEO), held in Guangzhou, China during November 8-12, 2011. This paper summarizes our review.
Synthesis: Environmental OMICS aims to take advantage of powerful genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics tools to identify novel toxicity pathways/signatures/biomarkers so as to better understand toxicity mechanisms/modes of action, to identify/categorize/prioritize/screen environmental chemicals, and to monitor and predict the risks associated with exposure to environmental chemicals on human health and the environment. To improve the field, some lessons learned from previous studies need to be summarized, a research agenda and guidelines for future studies need to be established, and a focus for the field needs to be developed.
Conclusions: OMICS technologies for identification of RNA, protein, and metabolic profiles and endpoints have already significantly improved our understanding of how environmental chemicals affect our ecosystem and human health. OMICS breakthroughs are empowering the fields of environmental toxicology, chemical toxicity characterization, and health risk assessment. However, environmental OMICS is still in the data generation and collection stage. Important data gaps in linking and/or integrating toxicity data with OMICS endpoints/profiles need to be filled to enable understanding of the potential impacts of chemicals on human health and the environment. It is expected that future environmental OMICS will focus more on real environmental issues and challenges such as the characterization of chemical mixture toxicity, the identification of environmental and health biomarkers, and the development of innovative environmental OMICS approaches and assays. These innovative approaches and assays will inform chemical toxicity testing and prediction, ecological and health risk monitoring and assessment, and natural resource utilization in ways that maintain human health and protects the environment in a sustainable manner.