Environmental and (eco)toxicological Omics and Epigenetics: Science, Technology and Regulatory Applications

Background and scope

General organization of the scientific programme

The Focused Topic Meeting on Environmental and (Eco)toxicological Omics and Epigenetics is organized in two parts:
  • Part I (Monday-Tuesday) will focus on environmental omics (but not excluding epigenetics)
  • Part II will specifically focus on epigenetics as an emerging field of research with potential applications in environmental science and (eco)toxicology.

For those familiar with either iEOS or SETAC: the program of Part I closely follows the concept and session structure of previous iEOS meetings (with each session introduced by a renowned invited speaker), and part II closely follows the concept of SETAC Europe Special Science Symposia (with lots of time reserved for plenary discussion and debate in-between invited and regular speakers).
Furthermore, the meeting will be organized such that it will gradually and smoothly evolve from more fundamental science (day 1), to a mix of fundamental science and applications (days 2-3), to a focus on epigenetics in regulatory applications (day 4). The meeting will also evolve gradually from environmental sciences in general (day 1-2) to a focus on toxicology and ecotoxicology (days 2-4). On the 4th day of the meeting, a limited number of participants can take part in one of two training-workshops, which will run in parallel with the plenary discussion/debate in the afternoon.

Scope of part I (Omics focus)

The aim of part I is to bring together researchers and organizations from a range of disciplines with shared interests in the development of new approaches for data handling, generation and analysis in environmental omics.  Science areas of interest include bioinformatics, DNA-barcoding, genomics, metagenomics, metabarcoding,  transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, epigenetics, evolutionary and ecological omics, phylogenetics, study of ancient DNA and anthropology, new tools, resources and training, and beyond as applied to the study of the natural environmental and environmentally relevant organisms and systems.  It is our hope that the resulting interaction and exchange of ideas will lead to novel approaches, new collaborations and the establishment of a wider integrated ‘Omic community’.
Background and scope of part II (Epigenetics focus)

There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that chemicals can affect epigenetic processes in organisms (e.g. DNA methylation, histone tail modifications, microRNAs, etc) and subsequently alter the way an organism responds to a stressor. These epigenetic effects may result in long-term impact on phenotypes, fitness, health and disease in living organisms both within generations (from embryogenesis to adulthood) and in a trans-generational fashion. While most research in this area has focused on plant or vertebrate systems (including human and fish), an increasing number of studies has recently been published in invertebrate species. The results of these studies indicate that the epigenome and epigenetic regulatory mechanisms in invertebrates may be different compared with vertebrates and plants.
The aim of the part II is to discuss a number of questions remain to be answered, despite the substantial amount of research published in this area particularly in the context of long-term impact on human health and ecological risk assessment of chemicals:

(i) What is the biological variability/natural variation of epigenetic traits? When can we classify a chemical as hazardous by way of causing significant epigenetic abnormalities with biological relevance?

(ii) Which epigenetic endpoints and bioassays are most informative for chemical risk assessment? How should we standardise procedures and protocols for testing epigenetic effects (including transgenerational epigenetic effects) of chemicals?

(iii) What evidence is available on the nature of dose response relationships for epigenetic effects in humans and environmental species exposed to chemicals?

(iv) What is the potential for cross-species extrapolation regarding epigenetic effects? Is there phylogenetic conservation of core epigenetic processes? How these processes are influenced by chemicals across the animal and plant kingdoms?

(v) Should chemicals that are designed to cause epigenetic modifications (e.g. epidrugs) be considered as potentially hazardous when they enter the environment?

(vi) What is the relationship between epigenetic changes and adverse outcome pathways/toxicity pathways leading to developmental, reproductive, carcinogenic and, eventually trans-generational and multigenerational effects? Can adverse outcome pathways including adverse changes to the epigenome?

(vii) What are the potential relevant in vivo and in vitro assays that can be used for the screening and testing of chemicals for potential epigenetic effects in a validated and standardised manner?

These questions will be discussed during the sessions by the speakers in their talks and through interactions with the audience while the final panel debate will serve as open discussion to summarize the findings from this symposium and the steps that need to be taken to further research and regulatory practices.