Why do some individuals develop illness while others, who have the same genetic risk profile, do not? Why do some patients respond better to certain medicines? And, what does it mean to be healthy? To answer questions like these, we must first understand biochemistry – the unified theory of systems biology that looks at the full picture of human health with the help of functional metabolomics uniting all the ‘omics.
The Metabolome: The Key to Understanding Living Systems & Health
Metabolism refers to life-sustaining biochemical processes that occur within all living organisms. Every organism strives for metabolic homeostasis and constantly produces a variety of metabolites to achieve this biological balance. This biochemical composition is also known as the metabolome.
When an organism's biological systems are disturbed by disease, genetic mutations or environmental factors, its metabolic profile often changes. This makes metabolites excellent candidates for biomarkers and particularly useful for understanding disease states, toxicities, drug interactions, mechanisms of action and other areas of biology.
Nearly every internal and external factor impacting a living organism exerts its influence by subtly altering metabolite levels. Because the metabolome is at the nexus of all these factors, it serves as a surrogate to the phenotype itself.
Not only is the metabolome vitally important, it is also well understood. The pathways within the metabolome have served as the foundation of life sciences research for more than a century and have been extensively explored and mapped.
Metabolomics, Genomics & Microbiome: Completing the Picture
Over the past two decades, a great deal of research has focused on genomics. While this science has made significant advances, it has not yet delivered on its full potential to help us understand and cure diseases. Even though genetics serve as the blueprint for an organism's biological functions, it is rare that a single mutation will result in a disease. Rather, in most circumstances, disease is the result of multiple genetic mutations interacting with environmental factors, diet and lifestyle choices, microbiome differences and metabolic responses.
Because metabolites both influence and are influenced by genetics, proteins and microbiomes, metabolomics can be used alone or in conjunction with genomics to create a more complete understanding of health.