[ASC-media] Media release: Biology meets industry - genomics, proteomics, phenomics

Marian Heard marian.heard at science.org.au
Thu Aug 5 15:05:21 EST 2004

5 August 2004

Biology meets industry - genomics, proteomics, phenomics

The entry of information technology and robotics into the biology laboratory is opening the door to new ways of studying cell biology - the 'omics. The Australian Academy of Science's new Nova: Science in the news topic has the latest information at http://www.science.org.au/nova.
In biology, the suffix -omics generally refers to the study of a complete group or system of biomolecules.
Genomics is the study of a genome (the total genetic material of an individual or species), rather than the study of an individual gene. For most of the last decade, genomics, especially the Human Genome Project, have never been far from the headlines. However, even before the announcement in February 2001 that the sequencing of the human genome had been completed, the principles and technologies which had enabled this impressive achievement were being turned to the study of other areas of cell biology. 
Just as genomics is the study of an organism's genome, proteomics is the study of an organism's entire complement of proteins. While the genome may be the blueprint for an organism, proteins are the structural and functional molecules required by virtually all life processes. Therefore, to truly understand how an organism functions we need to understand more than just its genome - we need to also understand the proteome.
Phenomics is the name given to the science which attempts to integrate the information provided by all these areas of study into a holistic picture of the complete organism - its phenotype.  As researchers focus on more and different groups of molecules, more 'omics will become part of the biological language. 
As well as the many potential benefits from this research, there are also some serious social issues that will emerge as a result of this new technology. For example, the ability to accurately predict a person's individual risk of disease with an easy genetic test raises the prospect of health insurance companies insisting on such tests before issuing a policy - and even refusing to cover those who have a heightened genetic risk for say, heart disease or breast cancer. 
Another problem is that personalised medicine and targeted drug treatments are currently very expensive. Many patients will be unable to afford such treatments on their own, and governments are already faced with difficult choices about which life-saving or life-improving drugs they can afford to subsidise. 
More information is on the Australian Academy of Science's Nova: Science in the news website at http://www.science.org.au/nova. The topic also includes a glossary; student activities; further reading; and annotated links to relevant websites. The topic was developed with support from the Australian Proteome Analysis Facility and the Australian Phenomics Facility.

The principal sponsor of Nova: Science in the news is the Commonwealth Bank Foundation (http://www.commbank.com.au/foundation).

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