Metabolite Profiling in Plants

Abstract

Advances in analytical chemistry, computation and biotechnology have led to the recent development of methodologies for broad metabolite profiling. Metabolomics now plays a significant role in fundamental plant biology and applied biotechnology. The study of plant metabolism has been one of the first beneficiaries of these technologies, and applications have focused on plant metabolite engineering, functional genomics and physiology. Metabolomics has gained importance in biotechnology applications, as exemplified by quantitative loci analysis. Integration of different broad‐range metabolite profiling into genomics approaches (system biology) driven by metabolome data will bring a change in our understanding of the regulation of metabolic networks and, therefore, facilitate improvements in our understanding of plant breeding.

Key Concepts

  • Metabolomics is defined as the quantitative complement of low‐molecular‐weight metabolites present in a cell under a given set of physiological conditions.
  • Systems biology is the combination of molecular and system‐level studies applying a synergistic approach involving modelling, theory and experiment.
  • Metabolite marker is a metabolite that is objectively measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal biological processes or specific trait.
  • Metabolic phenotype is the products of interactions among a variety of factors such as environment or genetic perturbation.
  • Functional genomics is the field of molecular biology that uses many possible approaches (i.e. genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics) to understand the properties and function of the entirety of an organism's genes and gene products.

Keywords: metabolite profiling; metabolomics; metabolism; functional genomics; mass spectrometry

Figure 1. With current technologies, there is a trade‐off between the number of metabolites that can be measured and the quality of measurement. The term data quality is used to mean the accuracy, sensitivity and specificity of the measurement. Highest quality is achieved with dedicated single assays of individual metabolites. Targeted metabolite profiling methods provide data of reasonable quality on a subset of compounds with similar chemical properties but are limited in their scope. Broad metabolite profiling provides data on many hundreds of different metabolites, but the quality of the individual metabolite measurements can vary substantially. Finally, metabolite fingerprinting methods provide data derived from tens or hundreds of metabolites allowing samples to be classified; however, quantitative data on individual metabolites is not derived, and therefore the data quality is very low. Currently, only a fraction of the metabolome can be assessed with any one approach.
Figure 2. Image of a GC–TOF/MS metabolite profiling facility at the University of Málaga‐Spain. Owing to the robust and stable performance of the mature GC–MS technology, it is possible to run high‐throughput operations with many hundreds of samples processed per day.
Figure 3. Example Arabidopsis chromatogram from GC/GC–MS technology. A total ion chromatogram is visible at the back of the diagram and represents the first dimension of GC separation. The peaks that are formed in the orthagonal direction towards the front of the image represent the results of the second GC separation. The heights of these peaks represent the relative ion abundances for each analyte. These peaks, but not shown, are the unique mass spectra that allow precise determination and monitoring of metabolite identity.
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Osorio, Sonia, and Vallarino, José G(Aug 2017) Metabolite Profiling in Plants. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020105.pub2]