Session 7 Chair: John Colbourne

Professor John Colbourne

Session 7 Chair: John Colbourne, OpenTox Asia 2017

John Colbourne 


University of Birmingham 



John Kenneth Colbourne joined the University of Birmingham in August 2012 and holds its inaugural Chair of Environmental Genomics. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, a founding member of the Daphnia Genomics Consortium (DGC) and Director of the Joint Centre for Environmental Omics (JCEO) in partnership with the China National GeneBank. Colbourne obtained his PhD in evolutionary biology (University of Guelph), was awarded a NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship (University of Oregon), then moved to Indiana University where he served as Genomics Director of the Centre for Genomics and Bioinformatics (2005-12). During this time, his work was primarily funded by the U.S. NSF, NIH and DOE to help pioneer the application of genomics for the study of how the environment influences gene structures, interactions and gene functions, primarily using the freshwater crustacean Daphnia as an evolutionary, ecological and toxicological model system. This work, in conjunction with the global efforts of the DGC, resulted in Daphnia's designation as a biomedical model species by the US National Institutes of Health. His arrival in Birmingham sparks an industrial approach at obtaining comprehensive knowledge on the effects of synthetic compounds and emerging advanced materials on biology, using new genomic model species (Colbourne et al. 2011. Science 331: 555-561; Alföldi et al. 2011. Nature 477:587-591; Werren et al. 2010. Science 327:343-348). He received the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award in 2012 for this work.


Overview for Session: Systems Toxicology Approaches to Environmental Health Protection

The World Health Organization estimates that half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025 – a startling prediction that raises the urgency of regulatory science to levels inconceivable for other disciplines.Technological innovations offer unprecedented opportunities to better understand cause and effects in regards to the thousands of existing and emerging chemical compounds that enter into the environment.However, a significant scientific challenge stems from the scale of the task of protecting our waters, and from the magnitude of the knowledge gap. For example, the chemical and/or ecological status of 99% of the 46,797 rivers and lakes in China is not fully monitored, despite the central government passing its first amendments to the country’s environmental protection law in 25 years aimed to better protect environmental health. Moreover, <10% of 143,835 registered chemicals that are released in the environment have been adequately tested for their toxicity, always as single compounds, and seldom at environmentally relevant concentrations, because current methods of risk assessment (developed between 1930 and 1970) are costly, slow, and often unsuitable for cause-effect modelling. New approaches are required to build upon recent discoveries being made on the diversity of molecular interactions among elements of the genome that signal stress responses of organisms to environmental conditions.

Objectives — The main objective of this OpenTox Asia Conference session is to demonstrate how the safeguarding of water quality can be improved by comprehensive data-driven science. Specifically, we will: (1) explore the degree to which the entire set of expressed genes and metabolically active elements of sentinel species are diagnostic of environmental conditions; (2) investigate whether molecular pathways that are responsive to environmental conditions can predict effects on animal health; (3) bring together researchers in Asia that can contribute to a global effort at producing sufficiently comprehensive mechanistic knowledge of omics signatures to improve effect-based risk assessment, and help governments and industries meet the global challenge of better protecting water resources.