I’m an organic chemist at heart, but for this meeting I’ve decided to explore beyond the wonders of total synthesis. So this morning, I attended one of the analytical chemistry sessions – and it was fascinating.
I opted for a session on metabolomics. For those of you who think this sounds like a rude word, let me tell you that it’s the study of metabolites as markers for disease (or at least that’s one application; it’s impossible to do justice to the full range of possibilities in one blog entry).
The session began with a talk by Lily Tong, from Greg Stephanopoulous’ lab. They were able to identify metabolites that are upregulated in patients that die of kidney failure. In this way, they were able to devise an accurate model to predict patients at most risk from the disease. Impressive stuff.
Rima Kaddurah-Daouk described a study of plasma taken from people with schizophrenia, and showed that each of three commonly-used antipsychotic drugs produces its own pattern of lipid-metabolite perturbation. This provides further evidence of the so-called ‘lipid hypothesis’ of schizophrenia, which suggests that the disease is not just caused by disturbances to neurotransmitters.
And finally, the award for gross presentation of the day goes to Andy Ewing, who is using fruitflies as models to study the effects of alcohol intoxication and dependence. This involves harvesting fruitflies’ heads, and we were treated to some lovely pictures of his special fruitfly-head masher in action.
It’s been a while since I looked at how metabolomics is progressing, and I was impressed at how far the field has come over the last few years. And now that I know fruitflies get drunk, I’ll never look at them the same way again.
Andy Mitchinson (Associate Editor, Nature)