Systems biology: Leading the revolution in ecotoxicology


  • Presented at the 30th Annual Meeting, SETAC North America, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, November 19–23, 2009.


The rapid development of new technologies such as transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics (Omics) are changing the way ecotoxicology is practiced. The data deluge has begun with genomes of over 65 different aquatic species that are currently being sequenced, and many times that number with at least some level of transcriptome sequencing. Integrating these top-down methodologies is an essential task in the field of systems biology. Systems biology is a biology-based interdisciplinary field that focuses on complex interactions in biological systems, with the intent to model and discover emergent properties of the system. Recent studies demonstrate that Omics technologies provide valuable insight into ecotoxicity, both in laboratory exposures with model organisms and with animals exposed in the field. However, these approaches require a context of the whole animal and population to be relevant. Powerful approaches using reverse engineering to determine interacting networks of genes, proteins, or biochemical reactions are uncovering unique responses to toxicants. Modeling efforts in aquatic animals are evolving to interrelate the interacting networks of a system and the flow of information linking these elements. Just as is happening in medicine, systems biology approaches that allow the integration of many different scales of interaction and information are already driving a revolution in understanding the impacts of pollutants on aquatic systems. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011;30:265–273. © 2010 SETAC