Exposomics: mathematics meets biology

TitleExposomics: mathematics meets biology
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsVineis P
Date Published09/2015

Although ‘exposome’ research has started to appear, and the concept is fascinating, we still have little proof-of-principle. This issue of Mutagenesis reports a few examples of exposome research, showing that the approach is providing the first results. In this Commentary, I develop the example of epigenome-wide methylation studies related to smoking as a success story, that fits well with previous research in humans and in vitro on mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and also with conceptual models such as Cairns’ model based on asymmetric division of stem cells. The field of exposomics merges different disciplines, notably biology and mathematics, but also the evolutionary theory, and can possibly lead to interesting breakthroughs in the next years.

Exposome and exposomics have become fashionable words, and the Special Topic papers in the current issue of Mutagenesis show that relevant research has started to appear. Although the meanings of these words have been repeatedly explained previously, it is not redundant to restate them. The exposome concept refers to the totality of exposures from a variety of sources including, but not limited to, chemical agents, biological agents, radiation and psycho-social components from conception onwards, over a complete lifetime, and offers a conceptual leap in studying the role of the environment in human disease (1,2). The term omics (hence ‘exposomics’) refers to the quantitative measurement of global sets of molecules in bio-samples using high-throughput techniques, in combination with advanced biostatistics and bioinformatics tools (3,4). Exposomics, in addition to being a specific EU-funded multicentre project (http://www.exposomicsproject.eu/) has also become synonymous of omics-based exposome.

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