In case you haven’t noticed, the suffix -ome is becoming increasingly popular in science. Genome, proteome, transcriptome, kinome, synaptome, etc. When I read words with an -ome ending, images of figures with many colored boxes labeled with teeny, tiny print swirl in my head. I can feel my heart race and my hands getting clammy, and then it all goes dark. Yes, you guessed it, I have ome-phobia.

I’ve seen these symptoms before: Eyes glaze over, head tilts back – similar to talking about glycosylation with a geneticist.

Rather than live in fear of omes and omics, I decided to take the matter into my own hands and face my fears. Knowledge is power, as they say. In the pursuit of knowledge, I decided to delve into the history and meaning of omes.

The whole -ome thing started in the 1920’s with Hans Winkler, a German botanist. He was writing a textbook on botany when one fateful day he decided to combine the word gene with the Greek suffix ome which means body. Omes were popular even in Hans’s day and common ome words at that time were rhizome (body or system of roots), biome (body of living things), and chromosome, which means colorful bodies. The latter comes from the propensity for DNA to pick up dyes. In the 1950’s the word genome picked up quite a bit of steam when that daring duo of Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA. Today the suffix -ome refers to a “totality of some sort” or complete set.

By the way, the suffix -ome doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the word home, which comes from the Old English ham. Based on different sources ham means either shelter or village. However, my home has lots of -omes – just look in my garage or refrigerator. For example, there’s the tupperome – collection of Tupperware in my refrigerator with varying ages of leftovers; the shoeome – shoes that I’ve owned since college but don’t want to get rid of because they’re “perfectly fine”; or the Lego-ome  (not to be confused with legume)– the jumble of Lego parts when you’ve given up trying to keep pieces of one set together.

In my search for meaning of ome, I ran across the Free Dictionary, which gave a list of acronyms for the letters OME. While a bit off topic, this list was the most fun. For those in the medical field, OME may mean otitis media externa. If you’re heading to Alaska, the code for the Nome Airport is OME. For you Twilight fans out there, OME means Oh my Edward! My favorite OME by far, however, is Old Man Emu which is apparently the name for a set of shock absorbers used for harsh roads. Who knew?

Now that I know the history of the suffix -ome, and that ome may refer to something about an emu, I feel a lot better. Knowing the history of its usage makes this all-encompassing appendage a bit more manageable. If you too suffer the pain of ome-phobia, I hope you found this information helpful.

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