UAB Metabolomics


The study of metabolism in NIH-funded biomedical research is resurgent as it provides answers to key questions in normative and pathological states.

What is metabolomics?

Metabolomics is a comprehensive analysis of small molecules (with molecular weights <1,500 Da). Members of the metabolome consist of those compounds coming from known pathways of metabolism, from compounds generated from other organisms associated with the host cell (in humans and other mammals, the intestinal and other microbiomes) and from exogenous chemicals. The latter consists of compounds in the diets we eat, environmental and industrial chemicals that enter the water we drink and the air we breathe, and therapeutic agents used in over-the-counter and prescription medicines.

Metabolism and human health

Whereas it has been considered that metabolism is a constant, it is now appreciated that subtle control of metabolism is associated with regulation of the cell cycle. Metabolism not only establishes the phenotype of the individual, but also is a determinant of their “metabolic age”. Diseases, as the treatments associated with them, impact patterns of metabolism in mostly negative ways. Understanding the metabolic differences occurring in disease and its treatment may provide alternative new strategies for systematic intervention in aging and disease.

Relationship to other Omics

As for other areas of Omics, metabolomics is intended to be comprehensive, allowing scientists to see novel pathways of metabolism that were not considered prior to this type of experiment. However, unlike genomics and proteomics, the range of chemical types that constitute the metabolome is immense, ranging from the most hydrophilic (e.g., certain amino acids, sugars, organic acids) to the most hydrophobic (e.g., cholesterol esters, triglycerides, anesthetics)

The methods of metabolomics

There are three main types of analysis that constitute metabolomics, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS). There are other emerging mass spectrometry techniques; (1) spatial imaging of metabolites in tissues and (2) head space analysis of body odors and emissions, as well as those generated by surgical procedures. The fluxes of intermediates in pathways can also derived from metabolomics data, a subset of this science called fluxomics.