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Now Researchers Can Tell Exactly What You’re Eating

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Jiya Saini
Jiya Saini is a Journalist and Writer at Revyuh.com. She has been working with us since January 2018. After studying at Jamia Millia University, she is fascinated by smart lifestyle and smart living. She covers technology, games, sports and smart living, as well as good experience in press relations. She is also a freelance trainer for macOS and iOS, and In the past, she has worked with various online news magazines in India and Singapore. Email: jiya (at) revyuh (dot) com

An international team of scientists spearheaded by experts at the University of California, San Diego, has reported a new technology named untargeted metabolomics for identifying the large number of compounds obtained from food that were previously unknown but appear in human blood and waste.

Published in Nature Biotechnology today, the method described therein provides an unprecedented record of the molecular signatures produced by consuming food or processing it in our guts.

According to the scientists, the novel approach has the potential to significantly increase our understanding of the chemical origins in a variety of human, animal, and environmental samples.

“Untargeted mass spectrometry,” as explained by Pieter Dorrestein, co-corresponding author, “is a very sensitive technique that allows for the detection of hundreds to thousands of molecules that can now be used to create a diet profile of individuals.”

”The expanded ability to understand how what we eat translates into products and byproducts of metabolism has direct implications for human health. We can now use this approach,” according to the expert, “to obtain diet information empirically and understand relationships to clinical outcomes. It is now possible to link molecules in diet to health outcomes not one at a time but all at once, which has not been possible before.”

In metabolomics, all of the metabolites in a biological sample are measured in detail. Metabolites are the small molecules that an organism makes or uses when it breaks down food, drugs, chemicals, or its own tissues. They are made by the body’s metabolism.

Metagenomics, a similar technology, was also applied in this research to assess genetic material in biological samples and characterize bacteria present.

Only 10% of the molecular characteristics in sampled materials are now annotated or identified by metabolomics research, leaving 90% of the material unknown. The novel method compares metabolomics data from tandem mass spectrometry, or MS/MS (an analytical instrument that analyzes molecular weight using two analyzers instead of one), against metadata-annotated data in a pseudo-MS/MS reference library utilizing reference-data-driven (RDD) analysis.

Essentially, each molecule is charged by removing its electrons. A very sensitive scale is used to weigh the charged ion, which is then broken into smaller pieces and weighed again to create a distinct fingerprint for each molecule.

These groups of fragments, also known as “fragmentation spectra,” can be compared between an analysis sample and a reference database. But up until now, the procedure has been quite difficult.

The Global FoodOmics effort, founded at UC San Diego seven years ago, built on the success of the citizen-science American Gut Project/The Microsetta Initiative by examining thousands of foods submitted by people throughout the world.

Over traditional procedures, the scientists enhanced their data output by more than fivefold. Most crucially, the new technique made it possible to employ untargeted metabolomics to establish the diet using a feces or blood sample.

According to the authors, RDD analysis allowed them to distinguish between dietary patterns (vegan versus omnivorous, for example), intake of certain items, and more generally, to compare the data with any reference databases that may already be in existence.

According to co-corresponding author Rob Knight, PhD, director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego, “this advance is crucial because traditional methods for measuring diet, such as food diaries or food frequency questionnaires, are a pain to fill out and very hard to do accurately.

“The potential to read out diet from a sample directly has huge implications for research in populations like people with Alzheimer’s Disease, who may not be able to remember or explain what they ate. And in wildlife conservation applications. Good luck getting a cheetah or a gorilla, to name just two species out of the hundreds we’re studying, to fill out a food diary.”

Dorrestein and Knight were particularly interested in the large improvements in how many molecules in blood or stool could be explained when food items were matched to population, such as matching food from Italy to people from the Cilento peninsula, where UC San Diego scientists are collaborating on a centenarian study.

This demonstrates how crucial it will be to collect clinical samples from people all over the world as well as samples from food in order to fully comprehend how our molecules and microorganisms interact to either improve or deteriorate our health depending on the diets we consume, according to Knight.

In addition to food, Dorrestein continued, “this study also points the way toward using RDD to explain the dark matter in our metabolome, not only in terms of diet, but in exposures to chemicals from the clothes we wear, the medications we take, the beauty products we apply and the environments we are exposed to. It will truly let us explore the chemical connections between ourselves and the world we inhabit.”

Image Credit: Getty

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