Use of comparative genomics approaches to characterize interspecies differences in response to environmental chemicals: Challenges, opportunities, and research needs


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Abstract

A critical challenge for environmental chemical risk assessment is the characterization and reduction of uncertainties introduced when extrapolating inferences from one species to another. The purpose of this article is to explore the challenges, opportunities, and research needs surrounding the issue of how genomics data and computational and systems level approaches can be applied to inform differences in response to environmental chemical exposure across species. We propose that the data, tools, and evolutionary framework of comparative genomics be adapted to inform interspecies differences in chemical mechanisms of action. We compare and contrast existing approaches, from disciplines as varied as evolutionary biology, systems biology, mathematics, and computer science, that can be used, modified, and combined in new ways to discover and characterize interspecies differences in chemical mechanism of action which, in turn, can be explored for application to risk assessment. We consider how genetic, protein, pathway, and network information can be interrogated from an evolutionary biology perspective to effectively characterize variations in biological processes of toxicological relevance among organisms. We conclude that comparative genomics approaches show promise for characterizing interspecies differences in mechanisms of action, and further, for improving our understanding of the uncertainties inherent in extrapolating inferences across species in both ecological and human health risk assessment. To achieve long-term relevance and consistent use in environmental chemical risk assessment, improved bioinformatics tools, computational methods robust to data gaps, and quantitative approaches for conducting extrapolations across species are critically needed. Specific areas ripe for research to address these needs are recommended.

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