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Metabolomics is the study of all small molecular weight metabolites inside a cell suspension, specific tissue, or biological system in order to provide a snapshot of metabolism at a particular point in time.

Metabolomics analyses are often high-throughput screenings in which the relative quantitation of the entire complement of low molecular weight metabolites in a sample such as plant or animal are compared – also known as metabolic profiling. By comparing differences in up or down regulation of metabolites in a disease state relative to normal one can identify as many potential biomarkers as possible in a given sample and learn more about the potential causes for disease.

There are many challenges involved in performing metabolomics studies. For example, the biological samples of interest are extremely complex mixtures of cells and small organic molecules including, amino acids, lipids, organic acids, alcohols, hormones, steroids, nucleotides, sugars and sugar phosphates.  These molecules are chemically diverse, with a broad range of polarities and are often found in differing concentrations within biological samples.  Furthermore, sample preparation and extraction of metabolites is critical to ensuring maximum recovery of unique metabolites present in a particular sample.

Analytical Techniques: Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (LC/MS, IC/MS)

LC/MS, IC/MS permits direct analysis of polar and non-polar metabolites. Separation is accomplished using reversed-phase C8 or C18 chromatography columns that are coupled to a mass spectrometer. The technique is well suited for thermally labile compounds and is convenient because it precludes the need for expensive, time and labor intensive derivatizations. Subsequent MS analysis provides mass spectra for every peak as it comes off the column, permitting qualitative and quantitative information on metabolites of interest in the sample.

Analytical Techniques: Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS)

GC/MS requires derivatization of metabolites of interest in order to improve their volatility and thermal stability. Capillary GC columns typically have thousands of theoretical plates, thus increasing separation efficiency relative to LC columns. Mass analysis similarly permits qualitative and quantitative information on metabolites of interest.