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  • Dr. Elizabeth O'Day

Metabolite Basics with Dr. Bo Zhang and Emily O’Rourke

What is the difference between “metabolite”, “metabolism”, “metabolome” and “metabolomics”?


“Metabolites” are small molecules that exist within our bodies, including naturally occurring metabolites, microbiome by products, and food and drug products. “Metabolism” describes the cellular processes and reactions that change metabolite levels. The complete set of all metabolites in a living system is known as the “metabolome”. Metabolomics is the study of the metabolome.


Why is metabolomics a powerful tool for biomarker discovery?


The metabolome is a master reservoir of information for a person’s health. Everything from our genes to the food we eat to the medicine we take is reflected in our metabolome. Metabolites are the downstream summation of DNA, RNA, and proteins which means any change in these molecules leaves a footprint of changes in the metabolome. Metabolites also respond to changes in the environment like diet, exercise, mental stress and disease. Metabolites’ sensitivity to disease related changes in the body make them especially useful in diagnostics. Metabolomics can inform disease diagnosis, drug response prediction and toxicity evaluation.



What is the difference between genetic and metabolite-based diagnostics?


Many diagnostic tests are based on genetic biomarkers (DNA or RNA) which can be informative, but do not always tell the entire story. Our genetic makeup rarely changes, but metabolites are constantly changing in response to our environment. Genetic biomarkers tell you what could happen based on your gene makeup. Metabolic biomarkers tell you what is happening. This is crucial for better understanding and diagnosing disease.


What is the limitation of metabolomics in 2020?


Metabolomics measures hundreds to thousands of metabolites in parallel which leads to complex data that can be difficult to interpret. Advances in data analytics and machine learning approaches, have made tremendous progress to identify differential metabolite features. However, even when significant features can be uncovered, it is still difficult to match those features to known metabolites, and even when that is accomplished, it is challenging to fully understand the biological meaning because metabolites can be the product of a dozen different and interconnected pathways. Thus, to perform metabolomics properly requires broad interdisciplinary skill sets. This is what is so exciting about Olaris’ platform, it combines leading analytical technology from NMR spectroscopy and mass spectrometry, statistics and machine learning, as well as deep expertise in biology so that we can uncover metabolite biomarkers with the promise of becoming groundbreaking diagnostics.

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