The lack of knowledge about the earliest events in disease development is due to the multi-factorial nature of disease risk. This information gap is the consequence of the lack of appreciation for the fact that most diseases arise from the complex interactions between genes and the environment as a function of the age or stage of development of the individual. Whether an environmental exposure causes illness or not is dependent on the efficiency of the so-called “environmental response machinery” (i.e., the complex of metabolic pathways that can modulate response to environmental perturbations) that one has inherited. Thus, elucidating the causes of most chronic diseases will require an understanding of both the genetic and environmental contribution to their etiology. Unfortunately, the exploration of the relationship between genes and the environment has been hampered in the past by the limited knowledge of the human genome, and by the inclination of scientists to study disease development using experimental models that consider exposure to a single environmental agent. Rarely in the past were interactions between multiple genes or between genes and environmental agents considered in studies of human disease etiology. The most critical issue is how to relate exposure-disease association studies to pathways and mechanisms. To understand how genes and environmental factors interact to perturb biological pathways to cause injury or disease, scientists will need tools with the capacity to monitor the global expression of thousands of genes, proteins and metabolites simultaneously. The generation of such data in multiple species can be used to identify conserved and functionally significant genes and pathways involved in geneenvironment interactions. Ultimately, it is this knowledge that will be used to guide agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in decisions regarding biomedical research funding and policy.