In 1920, Hans Winkler defined genome as a haploid set of chromosomes.1 Today, the ‘omes are increasing at an astonishing rate. In a recent issue of Nature, Alexa McCray, a linguist and medical informatician at Harvard Medical School, explained that the well-known and successful Human Genome Project has essentially made a trend out of generating new sciences with the same suffix. “By virtue of that suffix, you are saying that you are part of a brand new exciting science.”2
Study of the structure and function of proteins described as the proteome have now picked up where genomes and transcriptomes left off. Proteomics research also contains its fair share of terms with this suffix. In particular, the study of posttranslationally modified proteins has given rise to the development of phosphorylomes, glycomes, ubiquitomes, and methylomes. These groups contain a subset of proteins that are modified by phosphates, glycans, ubiquitin, and methyl-groups. Meanwhile, kinomes contain the protein modifier groups of kinases.
Other molecules involved in proteomics have their own similar terms too, such as the lipidome, which reflects lipids present in a cell; the metabolome, which contains metabolites present in a cell; and metallomes, which group metal-containing compounds together. ‘Omes related to proteomics are expanding horizontally as well. The study of molecular interactions are contained within the interactome, the spliceome contains proteins resulting from alternate spliced sequences, and the phenome contains phenotypic (physical and behavioral) characteristics related to the proteome and genome.
The proliferation of new terms like these reflects the expansion of scientific research. However, simply adding a suffix does not increase the worth of the data or make it more interesting. Overuse of this suffix will lessen the uniqueness over time, says critic Jonathan A. Eisen. Another issue is that branches of science cannot be succinctly packaged into one term. Eisen went on to say, “[‘omes] clog up discussions. And with little or no benefit. In a way, one can view many omes as language parasites. They spread by feeding off the strength of other words or concepts.”3 Despite feeding off achievements of projects like the Human Genome Project, the future of these terms will be determined by the value of the information they generate and not by the name itself.
1. Winkler, H.L. (1920) Verbreitung und Ursache der Parthenogenesis im Pflanzen und Tierreiche, Jena, Germany: Verlag Fischer
2. Baker, M. (2013) ‘Big biology: the ‘omes puzzle‘, Nature, 494 (7438), (pp. 416–419)
3. Eisen, J.A. (2012) ‘Badomics words and the power and peril of the ome-meme‘, GigaScience, 1 (16), doi: /10.1186/2047-217X-1-6