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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Metabolomics

One of the most obvious way of medically detecting why someone has bloodborne odors would seem to be by testing for smelly metabolites in their body secretions. Probably urine would be the easiest method, although the Monell Institute used this method recently to test for airborne metabolites emanating from skin. An example of this being used to detect smelly metabolites is the trimethylamine urine test, where they test for one smelly metabolite only. For a problem such as fecal body odor, it would seem to make sense to not rule out any smelly volatile organic metabolite until at least the 'problem' was medically defined. The technology to test for these types of metabolites seems to be already fairly widespread in metabolism laboratories across the world (gas chromograph-mass spectrometry and other such testing equipment).

In it's most extreme form, the testing of metabolites is a science in itself, known as Metabolomics. Currently The Human Metabolome Project is trying to discover all possible metabolites in humans, but have a way to go. However, most 'smelly' human metabolites may already be known.

Unlike the situation in genomics, where the human genome is now fully sequenced and freely accessible, metabolomics is not nearly as developed. There are approximately 2900 endogenous or common metabolites that are detectable in the human body. Not all of these metabolites can be found in any given tissue or biofluid. This is because different tissues/biofluids serve different functions or have different metabolic roles. To date, the HMP has identified and quantified (i.e. determined the normal concentration ranges for) 309 metabolites in CSF, 1122 metabolites in serum, 458 metabolites in urine and approximately 300 metabolites in other tissues and biofluids.
An example of a metabolics research center is the Nutrition Research Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They have a core facility that will perform two different types of metabolomic analysis: metabolic fingerprinting and metabolic profiling.

http://www.uncnri.org/about/what_is_metabolomics_90_35.html
We can then begin to develop concepts of the mechanisms involved in the observed changes. At this time, we know the identity of 300-500 molecules in blood (of more than 2000), and there is a great deal of work to be done to identify and to be able to accurately measure the entire metabolome. Some of these molecules do not come from human metabolism, but from the metabolism of bacteria in our intestines. In our bodies there are more bacterial cells than there are human cells. Metabolomics is a new tool for studying what it is that these bacteria do with the food that we eat.
What is Metabolomics?

Metabolomics is defined in the MSN Encarta World English Dictionary [ North American Edition] as the, "study of cell metabolism: the measurement of the metabolites of low molecular weight in an organism's cells at a specific time under specific environmental conditions."

Wikipedia describes it as the "systematic study of the unique chemical fingerprints that specific cellular processes leave behind" - specifically, the study of their small-molecule metabolite profiles. (Daviss)

Perhaps someday if there is ever any research interest in bloodborne body odor and halitosis, it's likely that this kind of testing will play a major role, at least in detection.

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