Seeing Inside the Chemical Reactions of Our Body


There are three main components that lead to a better understanding of disease mechanisms and subsequently creating more effective treatments; genes, proteins, and metabolites.  But what are metabolites and what role do they play in human disease?

What are Metabolites?

Metabolites are the small molecules that are products of metabolic enzyme-catalyzed reactions which occur naturally in cells. The FDA has compiled a summary of six major factors that are considered when determining if a molecule is a metabolite.  There are two kinds of metabolites, primary and secondary; primary are involved in normal growth and development/reproduction of cells, while secondary metabolites include antibiotics and other molecules with important ecological function.

Metabolomics: The Study of Metabolites

Metabolomics is the field of study that focuses on identifying and quantifying metabolites and their interactions.  “Metabolites are considered to ‘act as spoken language, broadcasting signals from the genetic architecture and environment’ and therefore, metabolomics is considered to provide a direct ‘functional readout of the physiological state of an organism.“ By studying the metabolites in the human body researchers can get a more complete picture of diseases’ effect on the body.

How it Relates to Genomics, Epigenetics and Proteomics

The exciting aspect of metabolomics is that the metabolome is the end product of both the genetic setup of an organism, as well as the sum total of all the influences that it is exposed to, including information studied in nutrigenomics, epigenetics and genomics.  Therefore, studying the metabolome leads to greater insight and a more comprehensive look at disease.

Similar to the Human Genome Project, in 2005 Genome Canada launched a $7.5 million project called the Human Metabolome Project to study the human metabolome in order to improve disease identification, drug toxicity, and link the human genome to metabolomics.  The NIH Common Fund is funding a Metabolomics Program that aims to increase development of next generation technology for the human metabolome.

Do you think that citizen science and/or data sharing will accelerate the discovery process to enable the successful sequencing and analysis of the metabolome in the next 3 years?

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