The Metabolome: the Key to Understanding Living Systems & Health
Metabolism refers to life-sustaining biochemical processes that occur within any living organism. All organisms strive for metabolic homeostasis and constantly produce a variety of small molecules known as “metabolites” to achieve this biological balance. The type and quantity of circulating metabolites are central to the function of all living systems. This biochemical composition is also known as the metabolome.
When an organism’s biological systems are disturbed by disease, genetic mutations, or environmental factors, the profile of metabolites produced often changes. This makes metabolites excellent candidates for biomarkers and particularly useful for understanding disease states, toxicities, drug interactions, mechanisms of action and other areas of biology.
Nearly every internal and external factor impacting a living organism exerts its influence by subtly altering metabolite levels. Because the metabolome is at the nexus of all these factors, it serves as a surrogate to the phenotype itself.
Not only is the metabolome vitally important, it is also well understood. Biochemistry has served as the foundation of biology research for more than a century, so the metabolic pathways that comprise the metabolome have been extensively explored and mapped. What's more, metabolites are translatable across species.
Metabolomics, Genomics & Microbiomics: Completing the Picture
Over the past two decades, a great deal of research has focused on genomics. While this science has made significant advances, it has not yet delivered on its full potential to help us understand and cure diseases. Even though genetics serve as the blueprint for an organism’s biological functions, it is rare that a single mutation will result in a disease. Rather, in most circumstances, disease is the result of multiple genetic mutations interacting with environmental factors, diet and lifestyle choices, microbiome differences and metabolic responses.
Because metabolites both influence and are influenced by genetics, proteins and microbiomes, metabolomics studies can be conducted in conjunction with other -omics studies to create a more complete understanding of the biological system with translatable results.