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EFSA scientific colloquium “Omics in risk assessment: state-of-the-art and next steps”

In recent years the development of innovative tools in Genomics, Transcriptomics, Proteomics and Metabolomics (designated collectively as OMICs technologies) has opened up new possibilities for applications in scientific research and led to the availability of vast amounts of analytical data.

EFSA’s 24th Scientific Colloquium on “OMICS in risk assessment: state-of-the-art and next steps” will take place on 24-25 April 2018 in Berlin, Germany. It will explore the opportunities for integration of datasets produced via specific OMICS tools within the remit of EFSA’s risk assessment approaches.

International experts will gather for an open scientific debate on the integration of data produced by OMICS in the risk assessment of food and feed products. Discussions will focus on Genomics in microbial strain characterisation, Metabolomics for the comparative assessment of GM plants and the use of OMICS for toxicological and environmental risk assessment.

OMICS is a term that covers several technologies used to characterise and quantify the roles and relationships of large sets of different types of molecules in an organism. ‘Genomics can facilitate analysis of entire or component genome sequences of an organism. Transcriptomics and Proteomics provide significant bodies of information on temporal and spatial expression of genes and gene products, respectively, whilst Metabolomics captures data for a large pool of metabolites. The interpretation and integration of OMICS data can provide valuable information on the functional status of an organism and on the impact of external factors e.g. stresses.

In 2014, EFSA started mapping the use of omics tools in the risk assessment related to food and feed safety (EFSA, 2014). Building further towards a concrete path of implementation, this colloquium will discuss diverse topics for which EFSA intends to exploit OMICS datasets to support the scientific safety evaluation. The outcome of this colloquium aims at helping risk assessors start the process of incorporating OMICS tools in the risk assessment of food and feed products.

Colloquia are not consensus meetings: their objective is to convene leading scientists from Europe and beyond. Rather than offering a series of lectures, this Colloquium will provide ample opportunity for an exchange of expert opinions and scientific debate. Following the opening plenary session with introductory key note talks, the meeting will be structured to enable participants to express their arguments, reach conclusions and make recommendations in small groups, focusing the discussions on four specific topics.

The four discussion groups (DGs) will focus on the following themes:

DG 1 – Genomics for the identification and characterisation of microbial strains used in food and feed products

Nowadays, the rapid evolution of sequencing methodologies allows the whole genome sequence (WGS) of a microorganism to be obtained in a fast and affordable way. WGS provides an unprecedented amount of valuable data for microbial studies, ranging from taxonomy to pathogen characterisation and tracking. WGS can support microbial safety assessment by e.g. identifying the possible toxigenic or pathogenic profile of a microorganism and/or its potential for antimicrobial resistance. DG1 will explore the possibilities for the use of Genomics as a tool for improving the identification and characterisation of microbial strains introduced in the food chain. The goal is to define how to reliably incorporate WGS in EFSA’s risk assessment. The following concrete topics will be covered:

  • Use of WGS to identify more accurately the taxonomy of microorganisms at species and strain levels
  • Genomics as a tool to identify and characterise genetic modifications in microbial strains
  • Tools, databases and criteria to identify sequences involved in antimicrobial resistance, toxigenicity and virulence factors

DG 2 – The use of Metabolomics in the comparative risk assessment of GM plants

A comparison of internationally agreed compositional or agronomic/phenotypic endpoints between new GM varieties and their non-GM counterparts is one of the basic pillars of the GM risk assessment in Europe. A two-step approach is followed, starting with the identification of possible differences between the GM plant and its closest comparator followed by the assessment of these differences against the natural variation estimated in a range of non-GM reference varieties. In this discussion group we will explore, on the basis of three different scenarios, how Metabolomics can be integrated in the GM risk assessment.

DG 3 – The use of OMICS in human risk assessment of chemicals

Human risk assessment of chemicals is traditionally based on the identification and characterisation of chemical hazards through a battery of in vivo and in vitro experimental tests and the derivation of health-based guidance values that are compared with exposure data. The in vivo studies are used to identify reference points (RP) (points of departure) to establish appropriate health-based guidance values. In addition to the biochemical or pathology-based types of experimental data, molecular data derived from OMICS technologies have also recently received attention for their applicability in hazard characterisation (EFSA, 2014). In this discussion group we will explore how OMICS data can be applied to the human risk assessment of chemicals. The following concrete topics will be covered:

  • Application to benchmark dose modelling for RP identification.
  • Provision of information on mode-of-action (MoA).
  • Provision of information on chemical similarity for read-across.
  • Provision of information on human health relevance.

DG 4 – The use of OMICS in environmental risk assessment

The goal of this discussion group is to identify bridges between ongoing OMICS research related to the environment and advancing prospective environmental risk assessments within EFSA’s remit. For example, OMICS could be used for screening of chemicals, for finding biomarkers of exposure and effects, for mapping chemicals onto known modes of action (MOA) or adverse outcome pathways (AOP), and for discovering novel MOA and AOP. OMICS in environmental research has assisted in bio-monitoring the health status of environmental compartments, or in monitoring of biodiversity through environmental DNA (eDNA). However, these tools could be considered more as retrospective assessments falling within the remit of risk managers. The outcome of the discussion groups will be presented and discussed in a final plenary session to formulate conclusions of the Colloquium and, as appropriate, recommendations.The outcomes of the Colloquium will be summarised in an overall report published after the meeting.

Who should attend?

EFSA welcomes participants with scientific expertise in OMICS technologies related to the specific topics of the discussion groups from academic institutions, national and international research bodies, regulatory authorities, non-governmental organisations and the industry.

For logistical reasons, to allow in-depth discussion, participation is limited to a maximum of 120 experts, including plenary speakers and other experts already identified by EFSA.

Interested experts are requested to register and to indicate their area(s) of expertise (see the registration form) in order to be considered for participation. Participants will be selected to ensure a sufficient representation of the various fields of expertise, as well as a broad geographical balance.

Please note that registration may be closed once the maximum number of participants is reached or at the latest on Monday 12 March 2018 EOB.

On-line registrants

Applicants will be informed as soon as possible after closure of registration as to whether they have been selected for participation. Selected participants will be asked to make their own travel arrangements at their own expense. With regard to accommodation, EFSA has made a block-booking for the nights of 23 and 24 April 2018. Selected participants will be requested to make their own reservation when participation is confirmed. There is no fee for participation.

Dates and Venue

The Colloquium will be held in Berlin, Germany. The meeting will start at 08:30 on Tuesday 24 April 2018 and will end at 13:20 on Wednesday 25 April 2018. Further details on the venue and logistics will be communicated to participants upon confirmation of selection.


English will be the official language of the Colloquium. No translation will be provided.


Briefing notes, containing information on the plenary talks and the questions posed during the discussion groups, will be prepared and shared with all participants before the meeting. The presentations and conclusions of the meeting will be made available on the EFSA website and an event report will be published on the Wiley Online Library as an EFSA Supporting Publication.


For more information on the Scientific Colloquium, please do not hesitate to contact us at scientific.colloquia [at] .