Ome'ing in on Disease

By Michael Edmonds 07/06/2011

The study of disease in human beings has involved the investigation of different aspects of the human organism. By studying the human genome, scientists can look at the effect of human genes on the development of disease; studying the human proteome looks at how different proteins expressed in the body may affect the development of disease while the metabolome allows scientists to consider the different effects metabolites may have on disease. I have also previously written about the exposome, the idea the our exposure to different environmental factors may trigger disease.

The most recent ‘ome that I have come across is the microbiome, which describes all the micro-organisms, and their genes, living on and in the human body. Scientists are now starting to show that the make up of an individuals’ microbiome can have an effect on how they respond to chemical and biological exposure.

For example, some gut microbes have been shown to detoxify arsenate to monomethylarsenate, while others can convert it to monomethylarsenite, which is toxic. Other researchers have shown that some aromatic hydrocarbons exhibit increased estrogenic activity when exposed to microbes from the human colon.

A five year Human Microbiome Project was begun in 2008, and is hoping to reveal more of the microbiome’s relationship to human health and disease.


Unraveling the Microbiome. by Britte E. Erickson, Chemistry and Engineering News, 2011, June 6, pg 36-37.