Metabolomics – University of Copenhagen

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Plant and Environmental Sciences > Research > Environmental Chemistry and Physics > Analytical Chemistry > Metabolomics


The rapidly growing field of metabolomics, covering the analysis of all small molecule metabolites in a given biological system, has proven its strength within a wide range of applications, including plant-, marine-, animal- and microbial systems. Metabolomics is a highly interdisciplinary study comprising sampling of metabolites from a specific system, sample preparation, data acquisition using sophisticated analytical technologies, data processing and multivariate analysis, as well as chemical and biological interpretation. The power of our group lies within the acquisition of analytical data by 1-and 2-dimensional chromatography coupled to multiple types of detectors e.g. fluorescence, diode array, ion mobility, quadrupole-time-of-flight, single and triple-quadrupoles mass spectrometry, electron capture or flame ionisation detection to enhance metabolite coverage.

Within RAACE, we have initiated multiple projects focussing on how we can use metabolomics to get a more detailed understanding of a given biological systems; all the way from microbial food metabolomics to environmental metabolomics of plants and polychaetes.

Microbial metabolomics, the study of the metabolite profiles of a cell under a given set of conditions, requires, like for other biological systems, reliable and reproducible techniques for sampling and sample preparation. An unsuitable protocol for sample handling, i.e. quenching of metabolic activity, separation of extracellular medium and metabolite extraction, can significantly bias the metabolic information extracted. So far, the major focus of the microbial food metabolomics project has been to develop and validate a protocol for quenching of cellular metabolism in order to obtain an adequate extract to be subjected to metabolic fingerprinting. This will ensure that comparisons of the metabolite fingerprints between conditions of interest, e.g. stressed and non-stressed cells, wild type and mutant strains, will be trustworthy.

Environmental metabolomics is an emerging approach to study how organisms respond to a variety of environmental stress factors. Most existing procedures for risk assessment, e.g., REACH - Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals, do not address that contaminants are present in the environment in complex mixtures rather than as single components. Consequently, nowadays risk assessment and sustainable management is insufficient. All our environmental metabolomics projects integrate ecological theory of contaminant effects on e.g. marine invertebrates or terrestrial plants with analytical techniques to determine their metabolite fingerprints. The intention is to assess the impact of pollutants present in specific ecosystems. We do this by examining how pollution and other environmental stressors control metabolite response in selected organisms at molecular level, and aim at developing of more relevant risk assessment methods which simultaneously address pollution level, cocktail-effects, bioavailability and toxicity in specific compartments.