Garrett (garote) wrote,

Metabolomics for fun and (potentially) profit

I while ago I had the privilege of attending the 11th International Conference of the Metabolomics Society. When I wasn't doing interviews I wandered around and had fun reading the presentation posters. Here's some neat stuff I saw:


This is a graph of the "Carlson Curve", a kind of genetics equivalent of Moore's Law. The connection illustrated in the graph isn't entirely sensible, since Moore's Law isn't actually about dollar cost, but about information density. It gets the point across though.


Did you know that your brain swells when you're asleep?

Perhaps this is why your head feels fuzzy when someone wakes you up too soon.

P.S.: I bet you've never heard of the Glymphatic System eh? Check it out.


Breaking scientific insight! Japanese women tend to lie about whether they've been smoking recently.


It's not something we often think about, but cooking creates smells because of food chemistry - and smells are complicated. Even a "simple" food like rice, seen as a relatively "empty" carbohydrate, emits hundreds of unique compounds into the air during cooking, creating a distinct smell.

The experiment in this poster attempts to identify all the compounds emitted by the different varieties of rice, to create a correlation between pleasing smells and particular compounds.

With that information, scientists can conduct more precisely targeted experiments to develop a variety of rice that grows well in a given region, and also fetches a higher price (because it smells better.)


Here's a similar, but not identical, metabolomics experiment with wine. The neat thing I learned here is that one of the smell components of wine, according to wine tasters, is "bike tyre rubber". Hilarious! I've been a cyclist for a long time, and I tell you what ... bike tires don't smell good.


The human body carries about 100 trillion microorganisms in its intestines (a number ten times greater than the total number of human cells in the body) and their role in digestion is extraordinarily complicated, and largely unmapped.

This experiment is pointing out something interesting: Our intestines absorb and process many different types of nutrients, and some them are found in the food we eat, but the majority of them are synthesized for us by the bacteria we carry within. Not just one or two types, like vitamin K and vitamin B, but the majority.

Without this symbiotic relationship, we would be so totally screwed!


Here's one of my favorites. Scientists took three very different meals, ground them up into liquid, and ran the liquid through a high-performance liquid chromatography system...


... Then they categorized the metabolites they detected, and plotted them according to their relative levels in each meal. This particular chart is only a small part of the data they collected. It's a heat map of the triglycerides they measured.

Basically, this is an extremely expensive way to prove that the American meal is chock-full of saturated fats, and the lightweight vegetarian meal is almost entirely fat-free, with the more "Mediterranean" meal in the middle. Whether this even constitutes useful information is debatable, as you may gather from the Wikipedia forest around triglycerides and all the instances of "[citation needed]".

Triglycerides of all types are broken down into their component parts inside the small intestine, and then re-assembled from parts and stuffed into large carrier packages, then passed into the lymph system and from there into the bloodstream. Those carrier packages are called lipoproteins, and they come in various sizes, and serve various roles as they move around in the blood. There are "high-density" lipoproteins and "low-density" lipoproteins, among others, and it's believed that the "low-density" ones encourage heart disease, while the "high-density" ones protect against it.

There is a fuzzy link between the balance of triglycerides you eat, and the balance of "high-density" versus "low-density" lipoprotein packages constructed to carry them around in your blood. It's not as simple as, "avoid fats", and it's not as simple as "avoid carbohydrates". There's also a large, mostly unknown, genetic component, so it's not as simple as "avoid saturated fats". But so far, the fickle finger of fate is pointing mostly at the "Mediterranean" meal as the smartest choice.

Now, if we all had access to those foods at reasonable prices, and we all ate just to stay alive, and not for pleasure or convenience, this would be life-changing information, wouldn't it?

Into this complicated mess, science marches on. At least the charts are pretty.


Meanwhile, the local hardware vendors are giving out candy!


Speaking of getting fat, here's a sobering bit of information. This is from an experiment done on mice, so take that as you will, but what it's basically saying is, if you gain a bunch of weight, your body chemistry changes on a permanent basis. Even if you work the weight off, and keep it off for years, your body will not behave in the old way ever again.


Look! SCIENCE! It means: Perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect lighting, perfect skin, and a pouty deferential look ... oh and some protective glasses, because hey, this is serious.
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