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Environment-Gene interaction in common complex diseases: New approaches

Division of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA

Special Issues: Gene x Environment Interactions and Systems Biology in Chronic Disease

Approximately 100,000 different environmental chemicals that are in use as high production volume chemicals confront us in our daily lives. Many of the chemicals we encounter are persistent and have long half-lives in the environment and our bodies. These compounds are referred to as Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POPS. The total environment however is broader than just toxic pollutants. It includes social capital, social economic status, and other factors that are not commonly considered in traditional approaches to studying environment-human interactions. The mechanism of action of environmental agents in altering the human phenotype from health to disease is more complex than once thought. The focus in public health has shifted away from the study of single-gene rare diseases and has given way to the study of multifactorial complex diseases that are common in the population. To understand common complex diseases, we need teams of scientists from different fields working together with common aims. We review some approaches for studying the action of the environment by discussing use-inspired research, and transdisciplinary research approaches. The Genomic era has yielded new tools for study of gene-environment interactions, including genomics, epigenomics, and systems biology. We use environmentally-driven diabetes mellitus type two as an example of environmental epigenomics and disease. The aim of this review is to start the conversation of how the application of advances in biomedical science can be used to advance public health.
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