Biomarkers -- Transforming human health and the environment
it in the news
Anthrax discovered in the mail… SARs outbreak…
Norovirus outbreak… Potential for an avian flu
pandemic looms… Obesity and diabetes threaten
Americans’ health… Demand for water on the
rise, while water quality falls. What do they have
in common? All of them clearly illustrate the link
between how environmental stressors affect human
and ecological health.
As concerned citizens, we’ve utilized preventive
measures where we can, including using hand
sanitizers, taking vitamins and eating well, getting
immunizations, using disinfecting wipes and in-home
water filtration systems. However, for every ounce of
prevention we take, we still are vulnerable to the broad
spectrum of biological and chemical agents in the
environment that threaten our health. And we don’t
usually realize it until we start to feel sick.
We cannot escape the fact that human health is
always impacted by our environment and how our bodies react to it—from the air we breathe, the food we
eat and the environment we live in. Wouldn’t it be great to
know these stressors were affecting our health before the
symptoms set in?
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientists
are transforming how we assess and manage our health
and environment by applying system science and pattern
recognition to the discovery of biomolecular signatures.
Biomolecular signatures, a set of genes, proteins, metabolites,
and/or lipids, present a unique pattern of change in an
organism that can be used to identify an exposure or response
to a specific environmental stressor.
The ability to identify these biosignatures will lead to
the transformation of environmental and threat assessment
from a measurement science to a predictive science. To
get started, they are focusing on three stressors: biological agents associated with terrorist threats, potential toxicity of
nanoparticles used more and more in everyday products, and
protection of our river environment from contaminants.
“We are identifying environmental biomarkers—which
are the earliest indicators of biological changes based on the
response to—not just to the exposure to—environmental
stressors,” said Dr. Terri Stewart, who leads PNNL’s
Environmental Biomarkers Initiative. “As with any preventive
measure, the earlier, the better which is a driver for the team
to find these biomarkers.”
By identifying and understanding these early indicators
of illness and other environmental damage, scientists will
be better able to intervene before human health or the
environment are negatively affected. This vital intervention
may lead to new preventive measures to ensure cleaner water,
an overall cleaner environment and a better quality of life.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.