Some applications of metabolomics

Agricultural

The development of new pesticides is critical to meet the growing demands on farming. Metabolomics enables us to improve genetically modified plants, and helps us to estimate associated risks by allowing us to get a glimpse of their complex biochemistry via informative snapshots acquired at different time points during plant development.

Plant metabolomics is particularly interesting because of the range and functions of primary and secondary metabolites in plants. About 300 distinct metabolites could be routinely identified per sample a decade ago, and the number is gradually increasing over time.

Biomarker discovery

Biomarker discovery is another area where metabolomics informs decision making. Biomarkers are "objective indications of medical state observed from outside the patient - which can be measured accurately and reproducibly" (Kyle et al. What are Biomarkers?). In metabolomics, biomarkers are small molecules (metabolites) that can be used to distinguish two groups of samples, typically a disease and control group. For example, a metabolite reliably present in disease samples, but not in healthy individuals would be classed as a biomarker. Samples of urine, saliva, bile, or seminal fluid contain highly informative metabolites, and can be readily analysed through metabolomics fingerprinting or profiling, for the purpose of biomarker discovery.

Personalised medicine

Personalised medicine, the ultimate customisation of healthcare, requires metabolomics for quick medical diagnosis to identify disease. In healthcare, we currently use classical biochemical tests to measure individual metabolite concentrations to identify disease states (e.g. the blood-glucose level in the case of diabetes). Metabolomics offers the potential for the rapid indentification of hundreds of metabolites, enabling us to identify these disease states much earlier.