Exploring the World of Exposomics: Understanding Environmental Impacts on Health

Exposomics is a cutting-edge field that examines the cumulative impact of environmental exposures on our health throughout our lives. It’s based on the concept that our health is influenced not just by our genes, but also by the environment we live in. This includes everything from the air we breathe and the food we eat to the chemicals we encounter daily.

The Challenge of Exposomics

One of the main challenges in exposomics is measuring the vast array of environmental factors that can affect our health. This requires advanced analytical techniques and a comprehensive library of chemical standards to identify and quantify these factors accurately. Building on its expertise in metabolomics, The Metabolomics Innovation Centre (TMIC) is at the forefront of developing and standardizing these techniques to gain a deeper understanding of how environmental exposures influence our metabolic processes.

Key Technologies in Exposomics at TMIC

This month, as TMIC prepares for an exhibition at the 2024 meeting of the Society of Toxicology, we are going to feature several of our key technologies in exposomics, and explore how the world-class metabolomics technologies at TMIC can help elucidate the exposome. As part of our research portfolio, TMIC 

Assays:

  1. Exposome Assay: This assay can quantitatively analyze 287 compounds in biofluids, including contaminants like PFAS, PCBs, and parabens.
  2. Metallomics Assay: This assay identifies and quantifies 41 metals by ICP-MS in either food samples or general biological samples.
  3. Mycotoxins Assay: This assay quantitatively analyzes 17 mycotoxins and their metabolites in biofluids, providing insights into their presence in our bodies.
  4. Untargeted GCxGC+HRMS: This methodology offers femtogram sensitivity, allowing for the detection of extremely low levels of substances.
  5. Chemical Isotope Labeling LC-MS (CIL-LC-MS): This technique provides high-coverage analysis of metabolites and environmental chemicals.

Database Tools:

  1. Toxic Exposome Database (T3DB): This database catalogs 3,678 toxins across various categories, including pollutants, drugs, and natural toxins.
Environmental Samples
4-channel isotopic labelling global metabolome coverage
List of metals for ICP-MS

Impact on Toxicology and Public Health

The application of these technologies in toxicology can help develop models for mixed toxins, examine interactions between chemical toxicants and stressors, and assemble information into adverse outcome pathways (AOPs) for emerging and known toxins. For example, TMIC’s research has contributed to understanding the toxicological impact of marine microplastics and identifying urinary biomarkers in active smokers.

The first study investigates the toxicity mechanisms of polystyrene microspheres (micro-PS) on marine mussels using high-coverage quantitative metabolomics. Results reveal disruptions in amino acid metabolism, particularly phenylalanine metabolism, leading to oxidative stress and neurotoxicity, but indicate that these effects are reversible upon clearance of micro-PS by mussels.

The later paper revealed that urinary thiocyanate levels as a biomarker for tobacco smoke exposure by using an inexpensive capillary electrophoresis assay, is more accurate compared to self-reports. Establishing regional cutoff values enhances the ability to distinguish smoking status in developing countries due to variations in smoking behaviors, types of cigarettes, and dietary factors.

Exposomics and Multi-omics

The integration of exposomics with other “omics” technologies (such as genomics and proteomics) is enhancing our understanding of environmental impacts on health. This integration leads to more accurate risk assessments and targeted interventions for preventing and managing toxic exposures. TMIC offers these tools and technologies as either services or research collaborations, advancing the field of exposomics and its applications in public and individual health.

In summary, exposomics is a vital field that helps us understand the complex interactions between our environment and our health. By exploring these connections, we can better protect ourselves and our planet from the potential harms of environmental exposures.

Summarized by Michael Lowings

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