July 26, 2018

Gary Miller
Miller studies how the exposome contributes to human health and disease. In August 2018, Miller moved to Columbia University where he is now a member of the NIEHS Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan. (Photo courtesy of Gary Miller, Ph.D.)

HERCULES Center Director Gary Miller, Ph.D., answered questions about the exposome and why it matters to human health on a recent episode of Big Picture Science, a weekly radio show and podcast of the SETI Institute.

The exposome is the total of all the exposures we experience throughout our lives. The exposome includes external exposures, such as chemicals, radiation, infectious agents, and diet, as well as the body’s internal response to those exposures.

Funded in 2013 by NIEHS, the HERCULES Center at Emory University was the first exposome-based research center in the U.S. By providing researchers access to cutting-edge technologies and facilitating multidisciplinary collaborations between scientists at Emory University and Georgia Tech, the Center is at the forefront of exposome research.

According to Miller, one of the big drivers of exposome research was the incredible success of the Human Genome Project. He says that when scientists started looking at the data from the Human Genome Project, it became clear that genetics was only part of what was causing many complex diseases.

“It’s the unanswered part of the genome studies that really drive the exposome research,” he said. “And so we want to partner with geneticists to get that good genetic information to help us interpret the impact of the environmental chemicals.”

To study the exposome, Miller and HERCULES researchers are manipulating genetic and environmental factors in the model organism C. elegans. “The idea is that we can study the exposome of this small worm and systematically mutate their genes. So it’s a really good way to scientifically look at how genes and environment interact in a way that we can’t do in humans. It helps us test the hypotheses of ‘does this gene increase the vulnerability to this chemical?’” Miller told Big Picture Science.

Beginning August 2018, Miller will relocate to Columbia University where he will continue his research as a member of NIEHS Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan and serve as the Vice Dean for Research Strategy and Innovation in the Mailman School of Public Health.