Mind & Body

You've Heard of Your Genome — Now Meet Your Other -Omes

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Your genome is your complete set of DNA, which includes all of your genes. Your microbiome is your complete population of microbes. It turns out that your body has a lot — a whole lot — of -omes like this. But how exactly does an -ome get its name, and why? More importantly, what other -omes are there inside of you?

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The Omicist's Bibilome of Omenomics

Unlike many scientific suffixes, -ome doesn't come from ancient Greek or Latin. In fact, it only dates back to 1920. That's when German botanist Hans Winkler coined the word "genome" in a nod to the word "chromosome," which carries your genetic information. ("Chromosome" does come from Greek: "chroma," meaning color, and "soma," meaning "body.") The suffix -omics didn't come around until 1986 with the word "genomics," which researchers coined over a beer while making plans to map every bit of human DNA for the Human Genome Project.

Since then, the suffixes -ome and -omics have skyrocketed in popularity — so much that they've lost a bit of their luster. There are nearly 150 -omes listed on the Cambridge Health Institute's -omics glossary, including things like the "culturome" (all of human culture) and "ignorome" (all the genes that haven't been studied very much). "...most of these terms, old and new, have been contrived as slogans to attract attention," wrote a pair of researchers in 2001. "It's a language parasite," evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen told the Wall Street Journal in 2012. There are even satirical -omes, like "ridiculome" and "badomics." But there still is some value in a word that can describe the complete set of something — especially if that something has an impact on your health and wellbeing.

Here are 10 -omes of yours that you probably never knew about.

The Connectome

This is the network of neurons in your brain, and "connectomics" studies how they interact. While we've gotten decently good at identifying how specific brain areas operate, studying the brain as a whole entity — like the Human Connectome Project is trying to do — could give us a more nuanced understanding of how the brain works.

The Cytome

This refers to the whole of your cells — specifically, how they're organized and how they behave together. Obviously, understanding how cells function and what gets in the way of that can go a long way toward treating and preventing diseases.

The Exposome

As you might expect from words using such a buzz-worthy suffix, there are sometimes repeats. The word "exposome" means different things depending on whether you're talking to a public health specialist or a microbiologist. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health describes it as the measure of all of the exposures to disease in your lifetime; Stanford geneticists define it as the cloud of microbes, chemicals, and particulates that surround you at all times. Both deal with the way elements outside of your body affects your health.

The Glycome

This is the entire collection of sugars in the human body. We're not talking about the stuff rushing through your veins after you eat a pint of ice cream — we're talking about a building block of life. Glycans are long chains of sugars that have all sorts of functions within you, which means studying the glycome could give us a brand new way to diagnose and treat disease.

The Immunome

This is a subset of the genome that refers only to the genes responsible for immunity. Your immune system is controlled by the coordinated interaction of precisely 847 genes and proteins, and studying these as a system can help scientists understand how it all works better than they would by studying individual genes.

The Lipidome

This refers to all of the lipids, or fats, in your body's cells. Lipids store energy, provide structure to membranes, and even act as chemical messengers, protein regulators, and immunity defenders. For this reason, the study of your body's lipids as a whole can also help scientists tackle diseases, especially of the metabolic variety.

Metabolome

This is all of the small molecules inside you — think glucose, cholesterol, the cellular fuel known as ATP, and neurotransmitters like dopamine. If the genome describes the blueprint of your body, the metabolome describes the construction workers. For that reason, it explains some diseases better than genomics can.

Proteome

This is the complete set of proteins in your body, including how those proteins function and interact. Since they play a role in pretty much every structure, function, and messenger in your body, understanding how they work together can tell us more about how your cells, organs, and entire body works.

Psychiatome

Inspired by the idea of the "diseaseome" (which is similar to the exposome), the psychiatome refers to the way biological and environmental factors influence psychiatric diseases. By studying the way lifestyle, genetics, and even culture play a role in mental health, we might find more effective ways of treating these conditions.

Resistome

This isn't inside your body — at least, you should hope not. This refers to all of the genes within bacteria (not humans, though these bacteria could be in your microbiome) that confer antibiotic resistance, meaning they prevent antibiotics from fighting infections. It's important for scientists to at least be able to identify these resistance genes when they see them, especially since bacteria have a sneaky way of just passing these genes back and forth.

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To really, truly understand the weird world of your microbiome, you've got to check out "I Contain Multitudes" by celebrated science writer Ed Yong. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer January 7, 2019

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