Appendix:Suffixes -ome and -omics

See also: -nomics

The English-language neologism omics informally refers to a field of study in biology ending in -omics, such as genomics or proteomics. The related neologism omes addresses the objects of study of such fields, such as the genome or proteome respectively.

The suffix -ome- as used in molecular biology refers to a totality of some sort; it is an example of a "neo-suffix" formed by abstraction from various Greek terms in -ωμα (-ōma), a sequence that does not form an identifiable suffix in Greek.


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) distinguishes three different fields of application for the -ome- suffix:

  1. in medicine, forming nouns with the sense "swelling, tumour"
  2. in botany or zoology, forming nouns in the sense "a part of an animal or plant with a specified structure"
  3. in cellular and molecular biology, forming nouns with the sense "all constituents considered collectively".

The -ome- suffix originates as a variant of -oma-, and became productive in the last quarter of the 19th century. It was originally found in terms like carcinome, sclerome, rhizome. All of these are terms are derived from Greek words in -ωμα (-ōma), a sequence that is not a single suffix, but analyzable as -ω-μα (-ō-ma), the -ω- (-ō-) belonging to the word stem, usually a verb, and the -μα (-ma) being a genuine Greek suffix forming abstract nouns.

OED suggests that suffix -ome- in sense 3. originated as a back-formation from mitome, later also reinforced by chromosome. Early attestations include biome (1916) and genome (first coined as German Genom in 1920).[1]

The association with chromosome in molecular biology is by false etymology. The word chromosome derives from the Greek stems χρωμ(ατ)- (khrōm(at)-) "colour" and σωμ(ατ)- (sōm(at)-) "body".[1]. While σωμα (sōma) "body" genuinely contains the -μα (-ma) suffix, the preceding -ω- (-ō-) is not a stem-forming suffix but part of the word's root. Because genome refers to the complete genetic makeup of an organism, a neo-suffix -ome- suggested itself as referring to "wholeness" or "completion".[2].

Bioinformaticians and molecular biologists figured amongst the first scientists to start to apply the "-ome" suffix widely. Some early advocates were bioinformaticians in Cambridge, UK, where there were many early bioinformatics labs such as the MRC centre, w:Sanger centre, and EBI (w:European Bioinformatics Institute). For example, the w:MRC centre is where the first genome and proteome projects were carried out.

Current usageEdit

Many “omes” beyond the original “genome” have become useful and have been widely adopted by research scientists. “Proteomics” has become well-established as a term for studying proteins at a large scale. "Omes" can provide an easy short-hand to encapsulate a field; for example, an interactomics study is clearly recognisable as relating to large-scale analyses of gene-gene, protein-protein, or protein-ligand interactions. Researchers are rapidly taking up omes and omics, as shown by the explosion of the use of these terms in w:PubMed since the mid '90s[3].

List of "omes"Edit

Established usageEdit

Nonce coinagesEdit

Unrelated words in -omicsEdit

See also: -nomics

The word “comic” does not use the "omics" suffix; it derives from Greek “κωμ(ο)-” (merriment) + “-ικ(ο)-” (an adjectival suffix), rather than presenting a truncation of “σωμ(ατ)-”.

Similarly, the word “economy” is assembled from Greek “οικ(ο)-” (household) + “νομ(ο)-” (law or custom), and “economic(s)” from “οικ(ο)-” + “νομ(ο)-” + “-ικ(ο)-”. The suffix -omics is sometimes used to create portmanteau words to refer to schools of economics such as Reaganomics.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Coleridge, H.; et alii. The Oxford English Dictionary.
  2. ^ Liddell,, H.G.; Scott, R.; et alii. w:A Greek-English Lexicon [1996].(Search at Perseus Project.)
  3. ^ Omes Table, Gerstein Lab
  4. ^ Christopher Paul Wild (August 2005), “Complementing the Genome with an ‘Exposome’: The Outstanding Challenge of Environmental Exposure Measurement in Molecular Epidemiology”, in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, volume 14, issue 8, DOI:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-05-0456, PMID 16103423, pages 1847–1850.
  5. ^ “Abstract | The transferome of metabolic genes explored: analysis of the horizontal transfer of enzyme encoding genes in unicellular eukaryotes”, in (please provide the title of the work)[1], accessed 2009-03-26, archived from the original on 2009-04-18

External linksEdit