Genome, Exposome, and Health 2014

Course Lectures from Spring 2014

January 15

Introduction to Genome, Exposome, and Health—Gary Miller, Ph.D.
Dr. Miller introduced the concept of the exposome and its development in the scientific community since its initial introduction, opening the dialogue about the exposome and its role as a tool in developing and advancing environmental health sciences and human health as a whole.

January 22

The Human Genome: Personal Genome Sequencing—Michael Zwick, Ph.D.
Dr. Zwick delved into the complexity of the human genome. He emphasized its importance as a tool in understanding human health and disease, while also acknowledging the need to consider environmental factors in relation to each individual’s genetic expression.

January 29

class cancelled due to snow day

February 5

Genome-wide Association Studies—Jennifer Mulle, Ph.D.
Through Dr. Mulle’s discussion of the genetic influences for Schizophrenia, she conveyed the significant implications for studies of environmental risk factors. Essentially, if situations where individuals have an almost entirely genetic risk are not controlled for, we may decrease our statistical power and hinder our ability to discover specific environmental risk factors of disease.

February 12

class cancelled due to snow day

February 19

Gene-Environment Interaction and Epigenetics in Complex Diseases—Yan Sun, Ph.D
Dr. Sun described the complexity of gene-environment interactions, particularly due to research limitations given the statistical realities of testing large numbers of factors. Yet through his discussion of epigenetics, he presented a viable tool for assessing disease development risks by analyzing multifaceted environmental exposures through a genetic lens.

February 26

Analytical Chemistry/Biomarkers—Dana Barr, Ph.D.
Dr. Barr reviewed the history of targeted environmental exposure assessment and how different strategies over time have led to today’s techniques and research methods. Through describing the evolution of exposure assessment, she brought us to where the science stands today and the potential to rethink past approaches to target complex exposures and health outcomes.

February 26

Metabolomics—Dean Jones, Ph.D.
Turning ideas into reality, Dr. Jones walked the class through the complexities of harnessing high-resolution mass spectroscopy for the emerging field of high-resolution metabolomics at Emory. Thousands of chemicals can be screened for their potential health impact, providing the necessary information to facilitate hypothesis generation and narrow research questions for targeted exposure assessment.

March 5

The Gut Microbiome and Autism Risk—Jennifer Mulle, Ph.D.
How important is the human microbiome?… given there are over 100 million cells with all the accompanying genes and environmental actions… ”pretty important” sounds like an understatement. Dr. Mulle introduced the class to the gut microbiome and the technologies that have advanced related research in recent years. With Next-Gen sequencing becoming commonly available, researchers can explore complex hypotheses such as why do autistic individuals suffer from more gut problems or what are the functional differences in the gut microbiome of a non-autistic versus autistic individual?

March 12

Spring Break

March 19

The Increasing Role of Exposure Biology in Exposure Science—Jeremy Sarnat, Sc.D. 
Dr. Sarnat reviewed the development of exposure science as a vital tool for environmental health sciences research today. As the field advances, he sees a potential paradigm shift in exposure science as new types of assessment occur through the lens of exposome-related research.

March 19

Remote Sensing: Monitoring Air Pollution from Space—Yang Liu, Ph.D.
Dr. Liu broke down remote sensing systems into their fundamental pieces and how they allow researchers to acquire data that might not otherwise be accessible. The applications of remote sensing for environmental exposures have barely begun to be tapped but Dr. Liu’s group is leading strong efforts to assess air pollution through remote sensing technologies and analysis.

March 26

Spatial Statistics & GIS: The Exposome….in SPACE! —Lance Waller, Ph.D.
Dr. Waller brought the questions of exposome-based research into perspective with concrete analytical steps, outlining the broad questions of exposure through the use of GIS technologies. As analytical “big data” technologies advance, selective data mining with applications to traditional GIS functions of layering, buffering and joining can answer the essential questions related to time and space in the assessment of the exposome.

April 2

Environmental-wide Association Studies—Chirag Patel, Ph.D.
Dr. Patel tackled the complex question of “how do we connect environmental factors to disease using high-throughput analysis methods commonly used in genome-based investigations?”, revealing EWAS as a tool to systematically connect environmental factors with traits such as Type 2 diabetes. Leading the way with this research, Dr. Patel has begun to integrate GWAS and EWAS studies to address gene and environmental interactions (GxE).

April 2

Toxicogenomics/High Throughput Toxicology—Gary Miller, Ph.D.

April 9

Environmental Epidemiology—Matt Strickland, Ph.D.
Dr. Strickland highlighted the importance of conceptualizing the ideal clinical trial, even when such studies are usually unavailable in environmental epidemiology. It is very difficult to reveal environmental exposures that cause human disease, but a well-designed observational study, with careful interpretation, may provide insights to those causal connections.

April 16

Systems Biology: Making Sense of Complex Data Sets—Eberhard Voit, Ph.D.
Dr. Voit described the “grand challenge” of modeling the exposome, a true paradigm of biological complexity, with extensive data inputs including thousands of genes, epigenetic factors, proteins, metabolites, constant environmental exposures, etc. Ultimately, one outcome of modeling the exposome will be to create personalized health risk profiles by understanding the complexity of exposures that someone experiences. In order to achieve this, the field must move from a world of averages to the detail of individuals in order to create models that allow for personalization and prediction.

April 23

High Throughput Screening in Toxicology—Gary Miller, Ph.D.
Dr. Miller introduced advances in toxicology including new high throughput screening techniques allowing for hundreds of chemicals and conditions to be tested at one time. With projects like the toxicogenomics research consortium (building a library of known toxins and genes they turn “off” and “on”) and Tox21 (screening thousands of compounds for potential toxicological effects), the data available in the field has exploded, opening the door for computational toxicology and complex exposure enquiries.

Course Description

Genetics can only explain a portion of human disease. We know that external factors impact our health. How do we measure that? The exposome has been proposed as a way to quantify the myriad of exposures and processes that influence health and disease. This includes dietary influences, environmental exposures, epigenetic alterations, metabolic processes, and behavior throughout the lifespan. Integrating data from numerous fields poses several methodological and computational barriers. Learn how Emory scientists and their colleagues are starting to pursue these challenges.

This course is designed to introduce students to emerging concepts and approaches for understanding human health and disease. Through the course, students will come to gain an understanding of contemporary –omic technologies, learn about approaches used in environmental health sciences, learn about the concept of the exposome and how it can be used to improve human health, and be able to articulate the potential benefits and limitations of the discussed topics.


  • Gary W. Miller, Ph.D.
  • Dean P. Jones, Ph.D.
  • Expert scientists from Emory and elsewhere