`Ome Sweet `Omics--A Genealogical Treasury of Words

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Date: Apr. 2, 2001
From: The Scientist(Vol. 15, Issue 7)
Publisher: Scientist Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 959 words

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"So intricate and inscrutable a mystery is the origin of language that in 1866 the French Society of Linguistics formally banned further research on the subject."

--J. H. Dirckx, 1977.

(Dx + Rx: A Physician's Guide to Medical Writing)

Genomics and Proteomics are the buzzwords of the dawning millennium. There is no counting of www.--ics.com and www.--ix.com sites to be found on the Web. That most of these terms, old and new, have been contrived as slogans to attract attention, does not diminish their likely substance, and they are embedded in the advancing edge of science and technology. Defying the French Linguists' caveat, we may yet ask, where do terms such as genome and genomics come from? What do the suffixes -ome and -omics, so abundant in today's vocabulary, signify?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) attributes genome to Hans Winkler, 1920; the full reference is his book Verbreitung und Ursache der Parthenogenesis im Pflanzen- und Tierreiche, (Verlag Fischer, Jena). At page 165, he writes (in rough translation): "I propose the expression Genom for the haploid chromosome set, which, together with the pertinent protoplasm, specifies the material foundations of the species...." He discusses this in the context of hybrids that may comprise distinctive genomes from the respective parents, and are then heterogenomatisch. The term was used sporadically in the 1920s and 1930s--Theodosius Dobzhansky scorned it; he would have preferred a "non-committal expression like `set of chromosomes.'" (1937--Genetics and the Origin...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A73535513