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The advantages of studying the metabolome

To provide an overview of the advantages in studying the metabolome
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RALF WEBER: One advantage of studying the metabolome is the transferability of the analytical approach across different biological systems. A metabolite, unlike a gene, transcripts, or protein is the same in every organism. For example, glucose is the same metabolites in humans, as it is in worms, plants, and sea anemones. Genes, transcripts, and proteins can be modified to alter their function. For example, the methylation of a gene to switch it on or off, while the modification of a metabolite results in the synthesis of a different metabolite. Therefore, assuming your analytical method can measure a specific metabolite and appropriate sample preparation is performed, you can detect that metabolite, regardless of the sample type. Metabolism is highly conserved across biology.
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The core reactions that are central to life are largely the same across the microbial, plant, and animal kingdoms. So the knowledge that we acquire for model organisms in the laboratory is applicable to metabolic processes in humans. Metabolism plays a fundamental role in supporting life, and is subject to strong evolutionary constraints. Amino acid, energy, carbohydrate, and lipid metabolism have evolved to provide the basic functions of life. The enzymes catalysing these reactions at the core of the metabolic network are highly conserved, such that the substrates and products of these enzymes are common between biological species. A third advantage of studying the metabolome is that it provides the closest link to the phenotype of an organism.
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The metabolome is the downstream product of the interaction between the genome and the environment, and metabolic changes are amplified, relative to the genome and proteome. The turnover of metabolites is rapid, and so measuring the metabolome provides a dynamic and sensitive indicator of phenotypic changes in the organism, and the interaction between the genes, proteins, and metabolites. Small changes in the enzyme concentrations and rate of metabolic flux can lead to large changes in the metabolite concentrations. The resulting amplification means that the simple changes are easier to measure in a metabolome, and thus make metabolomics an ideal tool for detecting these changes. A fourth advantage is the high SAMPLE throughput, and the associated relative low cost that can be achieved.
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For example, analysis time of 15 minutes allows 144 samples to be analysed per day, and more than a thousand samples to be analysed each week. This means that large scale studies can be performed, and the technique is highly appropriate for screening large number of samples.

Studying the metabolome is advantageous for several reasons including,

  • The metabolome provides the closest link to the phenotype of an organism
  • The analytical approaches are transferable across different biological systems
  • Metabolism is highly conserved across biology

Dr Ralf Weber presents an overview of the main advantages in studying the metabolome.

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Metabolomics: Understanding Metabolism in the 21st Century

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