Horizon expanding microbiology

The Micrognome has noted a steady increase in outbursts at the rise of the Omics. In some circles the Omics are considered a technological monster. In others the Omics are an expensive but necessary evil if you want to see what’s over the biomedical horizon. At long last the entry price is dropping. It’s time to reconsider how we do science.


Just like the legend of the Micrognome, omics started with the genome. The first whole genome on the horizon was not HUGO. It was from a microbe. Hardly surprising, really. The small genomes of yeasts, bacteria and especially viruses were within easy reach of the early molecular biologists.

Not just about nucleic acids

But wait. Molecular biology is not just about nucleic acids. It might have taken the technologists a bit longer to give us the additional tools. But now we can use separation science to analyse the microbial proteome and metabolome. Expression microarrays give us insight into the microbial transcriptome. The arrival of these newer investigational technologies present an opportunity to reconsider stubborn problems from a new perspective.

Homing in

In fact, the range of possibilities multiples with the addition of each new experimental approach. The combination of methods becomes a powerful new means of defining the horizon. Consider how to fix a point on a conventional 2D graph. You need X and Y coordinates. In 3D, you need a Z coordinate to define where you place your point. Now consider an experimental observation defined by a series of one, two or three complementary technologies. Clearly, three convergent data sets are better than a lonely one. Especially if you want to stake your claim to a bit of knowledge space beyond the visible horizon. This concept is referred to by some as orthogonal analysis.

Not just about germs

The growing field of systems biology has been pulling together complementary investigative technologies into a complex soup of methods under the umbrella of integrated systems biology (for example arena viruses). That means much more than a collection of words ending in ‘-omics’. Complexity theory points us towards higher levels of biological organisation including cells, tissues and organs. These all have their proponents. Microbiology naturally favours the pairing of molecular and cell biology. But look beyond the horizon to tissue and organ system biology and you have the context in which microbes operate to cause the mayhem we experience in the form of disease.

A recent review in the American Society’s Microbe explains how this multi-scale microbiology has been used to understand the functional dynamics of microbes that cause emerging infectious diseases. The Micrognome confidently predicts that this is only the beginning of a rapidly expanding knowledge horizon as we learn how to get a growing number of priobes in the crosshairs of our experimental sights including some of the most ancient diseases known to us.


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