The Exposome Boot Camp: Measuring Exposures on an ’Omic Scale

By Catalina Cobos-Uribe posted 09-01-2022 13:17


When applying for the SOT Diversity Initiatives Endowment Career Development Award, I was asked to list an activity that would help me in my scientific and professional career. Since my current research projects and interests are related to health effects associated with environmental exposures—i.e., e-cigarette use and woodsmoke exposure—I proposed the Exposome Boot Camp, which is hosted annually by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. This boot camp was a two-day online experience that unlocked many ideas for my current and future scientific endeavors. I am thankful to the Committee on Diversity Initiatives for granting me this award and opportunity.

During the boot camp, the instructors clearly defined the exposome and explained the analytical methods used to measure it. Several guest speakers from different institutions discussed their exposome-focused research, including the use of portable passive samplers to measure the exposome and, of particular interest to me, the mining of microbial metabolites. Additionally, this boot camp included four asynchronous lab demos that helped me understand how researchers process exposomics data in order to obtain relevant connections between exposures and biological responses. We worked with example datasets to practice data processing and pathway analysis and conducted an exposome-wide association study using the MetaboAnalyst platform and cheminformatics with PubChemLite.

My main objectives for attending the Exposome Boot Camp were to increase my understanding of the exposome and how to measure it, to listen to how other scientists are integrating the exposome into their research, and most importantly, to ascertain the exposomic methods I could utilize to further my research. These objectives were met with remarkable success.

Before attending this activity, the exposome, typically defined as the totality of exposures throughout a lifetime, seemed an unfathomable concept. However, thanks to Dr. Gary Miller's introduction to the exposome, where he refined its definition and included the biological response as a fingerprint of previous exposures, I can better grasp the concept, which will help facilitate its integration with my research. Moreover, discussing data analytics and examining the lab demos provided the necessary resources and knowledge to understand published exposome studies and, eventually, analyze my own data.

Overall, this experience exposed me to new skills and tools that will undoubtedly prove useful as I continue my research and develop my career as a toxicologist. It has already impacted several of my projects, including a review of the respiratory microbiome and metabolome in asthma. Thank you to SOT and the Committee on Diversity Initiatives for contributing to my professional and scientific development.

Catalina Cobos-Uribe is a 2022 recipient of the SOT Diversity Initiatives Endowment Career Development Award. To learn more about the Diversity Initiatives Endowment Career Development Award, visit the SOT website.