The fascinating world of Omics – let's analyze everything!

We geneticists love data – the more, the better! Studying a single gene or a few blood biomarkers doesn’t get you far, at least if you are seeking a comprehensive understanding of human health.

In this post we delve into the fascinating world of omics research. Omics is a field of science that investigates large amounts of biological variables.

Omics is about comprehensive biological data

The core of omics research lies in acquiring data that captures the entire molecular and functional information of the trait under study. While achieving this goal isn't entirely feasible with current technology, it remains the ultimate objective.

Omics can be divided into various disciplines based on the biological factors that are being studied: Genomics focuses on structure and function of all genetic material of the study subjects, transcriptomics explores the expression patterns of genes, proteomics focuses on structure and function of all proteins and metabolomics studies cellular metabolism functions and metabolic products. In addition to these four big omics, there are also several others.

Thanks to advancements in analysis techniques, it is now possible to quantify thousands of different types of molecules from biological samples and to analyze the whole human genome at once. Statistical methods are applied to investigate associations of these large-scale omics data with diseases and other traits.

Omics sheds light on biological underpinnings of disease

Why is it important to study a huge number of biological variables simultaneously? The answer is quite natural: because the biological processes of organisms are exceedingly complex. Humans, their organs, and tissues consist of a large number of different kinds of cells, which are composed of a vast array of various molecules. In the end, however, it is the interaction of these molecules that forms the basis of all living organisms.

Given the multitude of variables influencing biological processes, it's unsurprising that diseases are also complex, influenced by numerous molecular factors impacting their likelihood and prognosis. Due to the abundance of potential underlying factors, a single factor often only has a minute effect. Nevertheless, identifying even the factors that only have small effects is important for gaining a comprehensive understanding.

Another great aspect in omics research is that it makes no assumptions about the molecules and biological processes underlying the disease or trait. Instead, the research is guided by the results obtained from the data – sometimes leading to surprising discoveries. Genomics, for instance, aims to study the associations of millions of genetic variants to a trait simultaneously, avoiding reliance on a pre-selected set of genes.

Multiomics combines different omics approaches

To achieve a more comprehensive understanding, researchers often employ a combination of various different omics. Such multiomics can be used for instance to integrate genomics and metabolomics to study the associations of all genetic variants with thousands of biomarkers, such as levels of circulating lipids, analyzed from blood samples.

Finally, what is the benefit of omics research? In addition to uncovering biological mechanisms contributing to disease and identifying biomarkers for diagnosis or even prediction of diseases, it generates novel hypotheses to explore, and provides new data for future studies to build upon. Omics is not just a scientific tool; it’s a driver in medical knowledge, enabling the development of new medicines and other treatments.

In our upcoming blog post, we will explore a recently published multiomics study. Stay tuned!

Main authors:

Minna Karjalainen

Jaakko Tyrmi