Should we treat the ionome as a combination of individual elements, or should we be deriving novel combined traits?

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It has been more than 10 years since the concept of the ionome, all of the mineral nutrients in a cell tissue or organism, was introduced. In the intervening years, ionomics, high throughput elemental profiling, has been used to analyse over 400 000 samples from at least 10 different organisms. There are now multiple published examples where an ionomics approach has been used to find genes of novel function, find lines or environments that produce foods with altered nutritional profiles, or define gene by environmental effects on elemental accumulation. In almost all of these studies, the ionome has been treated as a collection of independent elements, with the analysis repeated on each measured element. However, many elements share chemical properties, are known to interact with each other, or have been shown to have similar interactions with biological molecules. Accordingly, there is strong evidence from ionomic studies that the elements of the ionome do not behave independently and that combinations of elements should be treated as the phenotypes of interest. In this review, I will consider the evidence that we have for the interdependence of the ionome, some of its causes, methods for incorporating this interdependence into analyses and the benefits, drawbacks, and challenges of taking these approaches.

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