News & Events

Dr. Paula N. Brown

Posted on November 13, 2015


Date - November 13, 2015
1:00 pm


Canada Research Chair, Phytoanalytics and Director of Applied Research, BC Institute of Technology
Natural Health & Food Products Research Group, Centre for Applied Research & Innovation

“Metabolomics for Phtyochemical Discovery”


Metabolomics is the qualitative and quantitative analysis of all small metabolites in a biological sample at a specific time and influence. Since its inception in 1998, the field of metabolomics has grown significantly through advancements in analytical technologies, statistical tools and metabolite databases. A Web of ScienceTM search on March 10, 2014 using the terms ‘metabolomics or metabonomics’ found 8,414 publications, further analysis revealed that the number of manuscripts published each year has increased steadily since 2002 (R2 = 0.9931) (Fig. 1). Metabolomics as a field of study is multi-disciplinary. Though driven by biological enquiry for a wide range of organisms (bacteria, yeast, humans and plants), metabolomics encompasses many fields including: bioinformatics, analytical chemistry, instrumental sciences, and metabolic biology.

Plants have one of the largest metabolomes and it is estimated that the average plant leaf can contain upwards of 30, 000 phytochemicals. This is likely attributed to the fact that plants must possess a phytochemical arsenal in order to withstand abiotic and biotic stressors present in the surrounding environment. Scientists have isolated and identified approximately 200,000 secondary metabolites from plants and recent estimates suggest that up to 1,000,000 novel structures are present within the plant kingdom. Plant metabolomics is a rapidly growing field with over 1,200 articles published in the last decade. Though once considered complimentary to other ‘omics’ technologies, the application of metabolomics as a stand-alone approach for the study of plant primary and secondary metabolism has proven to be an invaluable tool for investigating: plant metabolic processes and their response to the environment synergy between compounds, biological activity, and to authenticate commercial crops through fingerprinting.

A standard metabolomics data set contains vast amounts of information and can either investigate or generate hypotheses. The key factors in using plant metabolomics data most effectively are the experimental design, availability of reference standards, material preparation and selection of statistical analyses performed. There exists a need to evaluate approaches to delineate sources of variance, including preprocessing of datasets. This presentation will discuss and demonstrate some of the recent tools developed for analysis and interpretation of metabolomics data including eliminating false discoveries, determining significance, metabolite clustering and logical algorithms for discovery of new metabolites and pathways. Together these metabolomics tools represent an entirely new approach to phytochemical discovery.