On omes and omics: Journal Club with Dr Marta Milo

Last week the Grantham Scholars got together for their first Journal Club of 2015. The session was led by Dr Marta Milo from the Department of Biomedical Science, and focused on the complex fields of ‘omes’ and ‘omics’. Grantham Scholar James Thackery explains how he and his colleagues unpacked the subject.

This week’s paper

Multidimensional approaches for studying plant defence against insects: from ecology to omics and synthetic biology’, by P. Barah and A. M. Bones


The first journal club of the new year was run by my co-supervisor, Dr Marta Milo, a Lecturer in Computational Biology at the University of Sheffield. After the Christmas break we were all eager to get stuck in and learn more about the fields of research around us.

The paper chosen was ‘Multidimensional approaches for studying plant defence against insects: from ecology to omics and synthetic biology’, by Barah and Bones, 2014. The paper is about ‘omes’ and ‘omics’ – you may not know what these are and, indeed, only Grantham Scholars with a molecular biology background had even heard of them, but that was the point.

Omes and omics are essential facets of modern molecular biology, growing steadily in importance, so they’re an important thing for Grantham Scholars, who aim to expand their knowledge, to understand. However, they are also very complex concepts to get your head around if you’re not familiar with their background, and that’s what we tackled together.

This paper was a review of omes and omics, meaning its purpose is to convey a useful understanding of the latest techniques and ideas in that field, with plenty of examples. Reading the paper gives you a glance at the possibilities presented by this work, to complement lab-based studies and research into improving food production.

The discussion was tough, but it was a tough topic. We eventually defined ‘omes’ as molecular inventories, which both an encyclopedic list of their contents and a measure of the quantity of those contents. For example, a ‘proteome’ would include a list of all proteins found in a cell and the relative quantities of them.

We then moved on to defining ‘omics’ as the changes of the omes and the networks they operate in, but defining individual omics (eg, genomics, interactomics, metabolomics) became more complicated. After some time we struggled through and ultimately left satisfied – mentally battered, but satisfied.

It was definitely one of the more difficult Journal Clubs as we focused on abstract concepts in a specialised field. I would liken it to our session with Professor Visakan Kadirkamanathan, where we discussed the equally abstract topic of modelling, which was challenging but rewarding. Ultimately we left with a greater understanding of a key and growing field in scientific studies.