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The omics revolution is changing the field of science
The omics revolution is changing science and raising new questions.
The omics revolution encompasses technological advances that have allowed for whole-system analysis of macromolecules. Omics diversely encompasses technologies used for large-scale data-heavy fields of molecular biology such as genomics, lipidomics, proteomics’, and many others.
Omics technologies often used in this field include DNA sequencing and Thin Layer Chromatography. This helps to generate information about the different categories and functions of biological macromolecules within a biological system to help understand the molecular dynamics of a given process. Proteomics is associated with the identification, quantification, and classification of all members of the Proteome (complete protein profile) for a biological system, such as a cell. This data can then be accessed for future studies of understanding protein pathways, interactions, and markers of certain biological events within the system.
The omics field emerged from early collaborative research projects seeking to map the proteome and genome of various prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. With these projects, biologists began to use a systems approach to look at cells, tissues, and organisms to understand the complete macromolecule profile in a system. Among the first organisms to have their genome sequenced include the Beaker’s Yeast, Arabidopsis thaliana, and Guillardia theta. The field mirrors closely with systems biology, computational biology. In the early 2000s, the field of genomics became a hot topic with the finishing of mapping the human genome.
Data generated from omic experiences are compared to databases to help with data analysis. Omic databases allow for accessing and sharing new emerging fields of omics include livestock genomics. Obtaining genetic information about farm animals has recently proven useful for farmers for managing livestock.
More and more fields are using omic tools to help understand biological processes outside of traditional cell biology. Omic technologies have begun to be used in agricultural sciences and botany to provide molecular quantification and analysis in crop sciences and plant research. Helping with agriculture management and crop rotation. The new reliance on omics tools has created more of a demand for the development of bioinformatics tools to analyze the data generated. Additionally, better sequencing and NMR technologies have allowed for more accurate data capturing in omics.
With any great scientific innovation comes new challenges and opposition from scientists accustomed to using older techniques. Scientists against these bioinformatics and computational approaches to biology tend to be afraid that science is becoming too data-focused, and less about core scientific principles. To many, these large scale data projects do not hint at the underlying biological mechanism. For many scientists, they simply paint a picture with too many details!
Eukaryotic genome projects have yet to be used to produce better drugs or an understanding of pathogens. Scientists in an attempt to gather this data are acting more like statisticians and computer programmers, and less like traditional scientists. The scientist that collects the most data can more easily get published. To many, science will become all about the data, not about science.
Access, data rights, presents a problem for most molecular biologists. The new reliance on bioinformatics for data analysis could potentially dramatically increase the cost of conducting molecular biology research in many areas. Many recent centers now have a bioinformatics core with specialists that understand the technological aspects of the fields. In certain instances, researchers must set aside portions of grant funding to pay for the cost of outsourced technical support before data can be sent off to reviewers.
Omics technologies also create an ethical debate about the author/ownership of the data/publication. These technical specialists are now increasingly being listed as authors on many scientific works. Is the published data the property of the bench scientist’s or the bioinformatics specialist who ran the data through a computer program? Raising the question as to whether or not these technical experts are actually contributing to the science and content of the paper being published. Raises the issue as to what constitutes legitimate authorship of a paper. This greatly increases the cost of doing research. This gives high powered private universities in first world countries and advantage. As a result, better bioinformatic cores equate to being able to meet the standards of journals.
The new reliance on omics fields drives up the technical standards for publishing works. These new technical standards alienate scientists without high power bioinformatics cores from being published. In these instances, journals are distinguishing papers based on innovative data analysis techniques. However, the science the paper is describing is often less of a concern.
These new technologists have the potential to negatively impact grant funding. Grant committees in some instances may favor scientists that use and have access to omic technologies. Obtaining grants requires that the investigator use these new technologies. Grants may be seen as less favorable by reviewing committees if researchers do not use or have access to these new technologies. This changes the way we do science.
However, many scientists agree that the only thing more expensive than knowledge is ignorance. The bioinformatics and the omics revolution presents arguably the greatest scientific tool ever created for the generation of data about every facet of molecular biology. Pathways and macromolecule interactions do not occur independently of each other and cellular phenotype is indicative of many of these pathways and molecules. Omic technologies present the only way to conclusively understand macromolecules in relationship to each other and how it contributes to cellular function.
Current issues associated with cost and access to comic technologies will be reduced in the future as omics become more prevalent in science. Ultimately, omic technologies set a higher standard for how science should be conducted.