Metabolomic Analysis

Dr. Oliver Fiehn
New position: Full Professor, Metabolomics, Genome Center, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California

The group studies the regulation of plant biochemical pathways in order to learn more about source-sink relationships in plants, and develops methods for metabolomic analysis using mass spectrometry coupled with gas and liquid chromatography (GC/MS and LC/MS). Metabolomic analysis is aimed at the comprehensive and quantitative analysis of all metabolites of a biological system, and necessarily includes novel strategies for compound identification and bioinformatic data mining.

Sites of carbon fixation are linked to sites of net consumption via the vascular system. Almost all metabolites can be transported, depending on the developmental stage of a source leaf, and the varying needs of strong sinks such as fruits, tubers, or flowers. Therefore, the study of source-sink relationships cannot be restricted to specific biochemical pathways or selected organs. Instead, a systemic approach is needed that views metabolic networks in different organs in response to plant development and its environment. The group uses Arabidopsis thaliana, Solanum tuberosum, and Cucurbitaceae as model organisms.

Methods to analyze such networks need continuing efforts for development in terms of robustness and preciseness. Therefore, a strong focus of the group's work is to improve our ability to detect and visualize such networks. We employ mass spectrometric and other analytical tools to generate complex data sets, that are analyzed by statistical and bioinformational tools. We also extend metabolomic applications to related fields of biological research such as functional genomics, or the investigation of 'substantial equivalence' of GMO plants.

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