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Thousands of small molecules, known as metabolites, circulate throughout the human body in blood. Medical and nutrition researchers are eager to discover more about metabolites—amino acids, sugars, fats and more—because the presence and concentrations of some of these compounds can provide meaningful profiles, or "metabolite signatures," for assessing health or disease risks, or perhaps even for creating personalized recommendations about what to eat for optimal health.
To help expand this knowledge, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) chemist John W. Newman and support scientist Theresa L. Pedersen have participated in an international collaboration to document all of the metabolites in human blood.
The scientists, both with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, Calif., made their findings available through the project's Serum Metabolome database at www.serummetabolome.ca and via a 2011 peer-reviewed article in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.
Though most of the metabolites documented in the database are not new to science, the database is nonetheless a significant resource. According to Newman, it is the first-ever public catalog of more than 4,000 metabolites in human serum, and represents the most comprehensive coverage of serum metabolites ever offered in one convenient, reliable source.
Newman's group, and scientists at five other centers in the United States and Canada, used various analytical techniques to examine blood samples from healthy adult volunteers and from adults with cardiovascular disease.
His team's analyses focused on lipid metabolites involved in regulating biological processes. These metabolites are formed by the body from fats and oils in foods such as nuts, dairy products, meats and fish.
Newman and his group are interested in determining how the kinds and concentrations of lipids in the body are influenced by eating habits, physical activity patterns, and genetic and environmental factors, and the relation of these lipids to obesity and its adverse effects on health.
For the blood metabolites investigation, Newman's team worked with two technologies: gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, and ultra-performance liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization-tandem mass spectrometry.
Read more about this research in the April 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine. ARS is the USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.