Seeing Inside the Chemical Reactions of Our Body

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Three main components 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 small molecules produced by metabolic enzyme-catalyzed reactions occurring naturally in cells. The FDA compiled a summary of six major factors determining if a molecule is a metabolite.  There are two kinds of metabolites, primary and secondary. Primary metabolites assist 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 focusing 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 picture a disease’s more complete 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 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 studying the human metabolome in order to improve disease identification, drug toxicity, and link the human genome to metabolomics.  The NIH Common Fund funds a Metabolomics Program aiming to increase development of next generation technology for the human metabolome.

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

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