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Seeking the Universal Ome

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 8 - The march of science may be set to the rhythm of language--or at least the sound of whatever comes before "omics."


Metabonomics, transgenomics, and good old-fashioned genomics all vied for top Omics term at the first annual Systeomics conference here this week.


"How do you define success in science?" asked Jeremy Nicholson, head of the department of biological chemistry at the Imperial College of the University of London. "When I coin my own 'ome' word."


Nicholson threw two words into the hat: metabonomics--which he defined as an integrated-systems approach taking into account time as a variable--and transgenomics, or the instance at which a genome has an effect on another genome.


While Nicholson made no claim of having invented the two terms (only cheerleading their adoption in the scientific community) it seems they could benefit from an advocate: A Google search turned up "metabonomics" only 785 times and "transgenomics" a scant 217 times, several magnitudes off from "proteomics'" whopping 187,000 references and "genomics'" out-of-the-ball-park 688,000 hits.


If you're looking to adopt a word, however, give "systeomics" a try, as the conference sponsors--the California Separation Science Society--evidently did: The word registered a mere 135 Google hits.


David Botstein, on his way from Stanford to Princeton to head the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, avoided what may been seen five to 10 years hence as the Omics Wars by begging off terminology altogether.


"I don't know what 'systeomics' means ... but we are interested in integrated approaches," Botstein told the assembled researchers.


And the person arguably responsible for beating the drum of systems biology the loudest (and also no slouch in pushing the science of genomics), Lee Hood, president of the Institute for Systems Biology, weighed in advocating for the importance of studying gene-regulatory networks.


"The human genome project has changed how we view and practice biology," said Hood. "DNA is the digital source code for life... [and] gene-regulatory networks are fundamentally digital in nature" and are key to understanding the biology of life.


"Gene-regulatory-networkomics" anyone?

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