History of Omics

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The History of Omics: as a generic name for various omics and a standalone biology disciplines.

 Jong Bhak, Ph.D.

 Director of Genome Research Foundation

For the history of Omics.org and its background see History of Omics.org


Philosophical background
In a broad philosophical perspective, the origin of omics (and omes) is perhaps as long as human history.


Recognizing systems from parts

Humans have recognized that biological things including humans are not simple sum of the parts but a complex and somewhat emergently encapsulated wholes. Society could be viewed as an organism as much as the whole Earth one giant organism such as Gaia, BioBrain, and a computer.


Modern term of ome and omics

Therefore, omics as a concept can be very old. However, omics as a specific term, it is probable that people who have been working on various omics such as genomics and proteomics used the term independently as early as the mid 1980s (personally, I have not heard people saying 'omics' before 1994).

The prime ome and omics: genomics

The omics fields in biology in modern world are also old. Perhaps the core of many biological omes is the genome. The word Genome was coined in 1920 by Hans Winkler, Professor of Botany at the University of Hamburg, Germany, as a portmanteau of the words gene and chromosome
The word genomics is said to be appeared in the 1980s and became widely used in the 1990s.


History of Genome and Genomics
The first DNA genome was completely sequenced by Sanger in MRC Cambridge, UK, in the 1970s. It is a good question if Sanger himself called his virus genome, a genome. Genome is the most fundamental part of many omics. However, the omics part of the genetics is in fact not genome specific. Genomics implies some hidden network among genetic elements. The network is regulated by many other ome and omics layers such as proteomics, transcripomics, metabolomics, and physiomics.

The explosion of the omes and omics terms reflects 1) reinforced holistic point of view in understanding life, 2) expansion and differentiation of  relatively simple chunk of life into various encapsulated biological domains, and 3) technical advancement in computer science to integrate complex biological data through bioinformatics.

Bioinformatists played the most important role in the explosion of omics. Effectively they changed the conventional biology completely and laid a new philosophical foundation of studying life. The advancement of the internet and web accelerated bioinformatic infusion into all life science sectors.


The role of Bioinformatics
In the early 1990s, bioinformatists' role was relatively passive in the sense that they helped biologists or were working on relatively small theoretical problems in biophysics, structural biology, genomics, proteomics, and biochemistry. However, in the mid 1990s, their theoretical views were gaining acceptance more and more. In the past, those were too theoretical or technically too vague. However, as the whole genome sequences were deciphered en masse, their tools, prediction and insights were going much ahead of most biologists. This consequently resulted in them coining new words to describe new theoretical problems and concepts. Although there were very few professional bioinformatists (perhaps less than 200 in total throughout the world in 1995), some of their speculations, jargons, and hypes were acceptable enough by general biologists.

In the late 1990s, these people alongside more progressive biologists produced numerous -omes and -omics terms. These were often limited to small groups of labs or new terms were nearly jokingly coined. Some of the omics concepts were useful to describe more organic and large scale biological domains. The strong tie between IT(Internet) and bioinformatics paved the way for growing omics world.  In the early 2000s, there appreared a big trend on the internet where biologists produced papers, internet sites and proposals where they  introduce new omics.

Omes and omics as pratical knowledge concepts

There have always been sceptic and cautious remarks on the abuse of -omics. However, the omics terms are not a mere fashion, but a scientifically useful and practical concept. It is a refinement process typically found in the development of science. Soon, people will realize the hidden redundancy and relatedness among the seemingly distinct omics fields. This will result in a more systematic way of classifying omics and the contents. Omomics is the study of omes and omics relationships and their networks.

In the future, there will be strong attractors among them. The whole life science will have an efficient tool to integrate complex biological knowledge.


Ome and omics matrix

What modern scientists do these days is to produce for computers so that computers can understand human beings. Omes and omics data and information is a step of human and computer interactions. Therefore it is inevitable that humans beings will create more omes and omics even though they are not necessarily attaching -ome and omics suffices. 



Omes and omics will practically (not only conceptually) change the way life science is carried out. There will be even more omes and omics sectors defined and used by researchers.

-- Jong Bhak

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