Exposomics is a growing area of interest for the use of chromatography. But like all novel applications, not everyone is sure what exactly it entails. Read on as we clear things up with a quick guide to exposomics and how chromatography is used within the field.
Exposomics and the exposome
The quick way to explain exposomics is as the study of the exposome. But that’s not usually enough. Digging a little deeper, the exposome is the measure of all exposures through a person’s lifetime and how they impact health.
The exposome begins before birth – in the womb – and continues through to death. It includes exposures from the environment, our lifestyle and, of course, our diet. But it also takes account of how those exposures interact with a person’s genetics and physiology.
It’s undoubtedly a big project. But the results could be equally significant. Exposomics promises to revolutionize our understanding of what really causes diseases, by bridging the gap between genetics and exposure. With genetics alone accounting for around 10% of diseases, that means as much as 90% could be down to our exposome – as well as its interactions with genetics. Put simply, it’s certainly a gap worth bridging.
Different areas of exposomics
With such a vast scope, it’s no surprise that exposomics draws on several fields of study, including genomics, metabonomics, lipidomics, transcriptomics and proteomics.
One thing they have in common, however, is the use of biomarkers. These are molecules, genes or characteristics which point to a certain exposure, susceptibility or disease progression.
Another common theme across those fields is data. When studying exposomics, technologies are used which provide large amounts of data in order to identify associations between exposures, their effects, and links with other variables like genetics or diseases.
How is chromatography used?
The next question is how chromatography is used. The answer lies in those all-important biomarkers. Chromatography is vital to the identification of biomarkers for various types of exposure.
In 2018, researchers used liquid chromatography to analyze the effects of a drink on our exposome. They identified several urine-based biomarkers for the consumption of genipap juice (made from a fruit native to Amazonia).
But that’s just one example. Breath analysis is another fruitful area of research when it comes to the exposome, for which both gas and liquid chromatography can be utilized.
One of the most challenging aspects of biomarker research is blind identification. In other words, the ability to identify unknown chemicals in a sample. This is discussed in more depth in the article ‘Comprehensive, Non-Target Characterization of Blinded Environmental Exposome Standards Using GCxGC and High Resolution Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry’.