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What is Toxicogenomics?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Toxicogenomics is a scientific field which studies the interaction between toxins and the genome. It combines the fields of toxicology and genomics to study the ways in which the body responds to toxic exposure. Research in this field is supported by a number of government organizations which are concerned about the human health risk of toxins, and pharmaceutical companies also invest heavily in this area in the course of researching drugs under development.

When people are exposed to toxins, changes occur in their cells. Some genes may be turned off, while others are turned on. This can in part be caused by the body's attempt to protect itself from the toxin, and it can be caused by the toxins themselves, with toxins activating or suppressing various areas of the genome. These changes result in disease, and sometimes in death, in the case of some toxins.

Researchers interested in toxicogenomics explore the specifics of what happens genetically when people are exposed to toxins. Researchers may study the genome as a whole, using microarray technology to bathe segments of DNA in a toxin and see which areas of the genome activate, and they can also study specific reactions in various areas of the genome. They may focus, for example, on a particular family of proteins, or on the response in particular types of cells.

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In the pharmaceutical industry, there are concerns about the toxic effects of drugs. Many medications cause side effects, and sometimes these side effects can be quite harmful. Researching toxicogenomics allows people who work in drug development to understand how drugs interact with the genome. It can be used to identify areas of the genome which are vulnerable to specific classes of drugs, and to explore how drugs work on the genomic level.

Environmental researchers are also sometimes interested in toxicogenomics. Naturally, a number of toxins are present in the environment, created by plants and animals for protection and other purposes. In addition, a number of artificial toxins are introduced through human activity. Learning about how these toxins interact with humans and other organisms can provide useful data about how to deal with environmental toxins.

People who are interested in working in toxicogenomics should prepare to spend a lot of time in school. Researchers tend to have attended graduate school, and may work in educational institutions, private research facilities, or government laboratories. An interest in both genetics and toxins is extremely helpful, as are good organizing skills, patience, and precision.

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