Mapping the exposome: Emory and Georgia Tech researchers have teamed up to study the environment’s impact on health

by Mary Jo DiLonardo

Researchers at Emory University and Georgia Tech have joined forces to study the “exposome”—a measure of the environment’s impact on health. The partners received $4 million, the first exposome-centric grant awarded in the U.S., to establish HERCULES. (The acronym covers quite a mouthful: Health and Exposome Research Center: Understanding Lifetime Exposures.) Based at Emory, HERCULES is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and includes thirty-eight investigators from Emory and Tech. We asked center director Gary W. Miller, professor and associate dean for research at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, to explain the exposome concept.

Just what is an “exposome”? Think of it as the environmental complement to the human genome. Our genome describes the genetic variations we have, while the exposome describes the totality of environmental exposures we face. There is some debate as to what should be part of it. I have a broad view and think about air pollution, diet, social stresses. It’s almost a way of looking at what “nurture” is. It’s a very complicated idea.

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