From OMICS to systems biology
Marc Vidal and Eileen E. M. Furlong
The field of 'omics' currently polarizes the community of biologists. What do all these terms mean? Is there a fundamental difference between functional genomics and genetics? Is proteomics not what we used to call biochemistry?
The transcriptome, proteome, interactome and metabolome of a cell correspond to tangible entities (see glossary). Transcriptomics, proteomics, interactomics and metabolomics are fields of studies that focus on the properties of those entities. They should not be just buzzwords, mostly used to attract large sums of funding, public or private. Instead, such neologisms hopefully help to formalize and address biologically relevant questions.
Suffixes and neologisms are not new in science. They reflect the evolution of our collective thoughts. 'Omes' were already used in the beginning of the last century to indicate the 'wholeness' of biological systems, such as in 'biome' or even 'rhizome'. Other suffixes such as 'ion' and 'on' help us to conceptualize the most elementary particles, such as in 'ion, cation and anion', or in 'photon, electron, proton and meson'. Considering the wholeness of cellular systems by conceptualizing the proteome or the metabolome might be as important for our understanding of biology as, for example, the wholeness of economical markets is to the study of macroeconomics.
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