When lifespans of 160+ years become routinely available it will most likely be due to research results coming out of the “omics:” genomics, epigenomics, proteomics, etc. This is a short introduction to some of the most important omics and how they fit in the universe of longevity-related research.
Genomics This is the granddaddy omics, the study of the genomes of organisms, eg. the chromosomes, genes and so-called non-coding DNA on chromosomes. Back a dozen years ago when we were starting to decode the human genome some scientists thought that once we got the genes in the human genome down the rest would be easy. Now we understand that that was just the start of the omics revolution. Clearly, longevity has a lot to do with genes. Here is a list of genes that have been analyzed for their possible association with human longevity. As you can see from looking at that long list, the pieces of research evidence gathered so far tend to be scattered fragments.
Epigenomics This is the study of encoded possibly inheritable DNA information acquired in the processes of living that is not in the sequences of genes themselves. The encoding is via DNA methylation and histone acytelation. (See the Feb 28, 2009 post on this Blog Epigenetics, Epigenomics and Aging. Also the March 20 2009 post on this Blog DNA methylation, personalized medicine and longevity. Very likely, major gains in longevity will result from epigenetic reprogramming, possibly via nutrigenomic interventions. The regimen of supplements suggested in Anti-Aging Firewalls is a start.
Proteomics This is the study of proteins, particularly their structures and functions in relationship to gene activation. (See the February 26 2009 post on this Blog on Protein origami and aging and the March 6 post Do your proteins get tied up in knots?) Clearly, proteomics is of central relevance to Epigenomics and also to Genomics since genes make proteins and proteins condition the activation of genes.
Transcriptomics This is the global study of gene expression at the RNA level(ref). It is the study of all messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules, or “transcripts,” produced in a cell, a population of cells or an entire organism. Since messenger RNA is produced by genes and encodes instructions for making proteins, transcriptomics stands in the middle between Genomics and Proteomics. As such, it is also central to longevity research. By now it should becoming clear that all the omics up to this point address different but highly related aspects of fundamental processes that occur in cells. They share two other very important properties, which are 1. that very large data bases are being built in each of these omics areas and 2. ever-superior tools are being built for creating such databases such as improved microarray and digital gene-expression profiling technology and qualitative real-time polymerase chain reaction systems (ones that can measure the abundance of specific sequences of DNA or RNA in a sample). These databases and tools increasingly play central roles in basic discoveries related to human longevity.
Pharmacogenomics This is the study which looks at the influence of genetic variation on drug response in patients by correlating gene expression or gene variations (e.g. single-nucleotide polymorphisms) with a drug’s efficacy, toxicity or unintended effects. Pharmacogenomics is a branch of pharmacology that looks forward to the day when drugs might be tailor-made for individuals in a way that is adapted to each person’s own genetic makeup(ref). No doubt, by combating age-related diseases those drugs will allow many people to live longer.
Nutrigenomics This is the study of how the bioactive constituents of foods and dietary supplements affect gene expression, again in the light of individual epigenomic history. A practical goal of nutrigenomics is – “to devise genome-based nutritional interventions to prevent, delay, and treat diseases such asthma, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and prostate cancer(ref).” A more-detailed discussion of this topic was posted on this Blog on March 4. And I expect to be writing more about it in coming months.
Ecogenomics This is the study of genetic materials as they occur in an environment where there is an ecological system in operation. It also involves application of such knowledge to ecological and evolutionary processes. Ecogenomics defines biodiversity at the DNA level and uses molecular techniques to quantify the functions and interactions of organisms at an ecosystem level(ref). Future public health ecosystem interventions are likely to have major impacts on overall longevity as they have historically (e.g., installing sanitation systems, cleaning up rivers).
Agrigenomics This is the study of the genetic makeup of agricultural plants and how all the genes work together to produce a crop(ref). Possibilities for longevity include the development of much healthier foods.
All together, these omics fields define a new era of both theoretical and applied systems biology. As we more understand life we will more understand what it takes to live longer and more healthily. So each of these fields is in fact an area of longevity research.