The goal of metabolomics is to detect and quantify small molecules in biological fluids and tissues (metabolites). Metabolites represent a diverse group of chemical compounds such as amino acids, lipids, organic acids and environmental chemicals. Thousands of metabolites originate from the foods we eat, the microbes in our bodies and many chemical processes that are ongoing in our bodies.
The field of metabolomics has grown rapidly over the past 10 years, thanks to advances in instrumentation and strong investment in laboratories with expertise in this area of analytical chemistry.
Metabolomics provides a window into cellular metabolism by contributing biochemical evidence that complements other technologies such as genomics and proteomics. The main challenge in metabolomics is that it is not currently possible to simultaneously detect and quantify the entire metabolome with a single analytical technique.
The major metabolomics tools are mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. Mass spectrometry has outstanding sensitivity, making it useful for detecting metabolites in very low abundance. NMR spectroscopy is quantitatively reproducible and nondestructive. Advanced NMR techniques are powerful tools for structural elucidation of unknown compounds and allow for in vivo experiments. Both mass spectrometry and NMR are powerful tools for isotope tracing studies, which allow scientists to measure metabolite kinetics.
Metabolomics resources at Mayo Clinic
The Mayo Clinic Metabolomics Core maintains a diverse collection of instrumentation, including 14 mass spectrometry systems coupled to gas chromatography or liquid chromatography systems. Four powerful NMR systems provide standardized metabolomics screening and in vivo measurements.
The Metabolomics Core operates as a fee-for-service laboratory, but the core staff often contributes its expertise to projects as needed.