Within systems biology, the field of metabolomics is considered relatively new1. Despite this, the first reports of metabolic studies can be traced back 1000’s of years. Remarkably, metabolic profiling occurred over 3,000 years ago in ancient China. Doctors used ants to evaluate the urine of patients to detect whether it contained high levels of glucose, using this as an indicator for diabetes2. Other mentions of ‘screening’ urine for high levels of glucose around the same time were recorded by Hindus and Egyptian physicians and included using flies and taste (I bet they wish they’d heard about using ants).
This list of milestones in metabolomics will focus on some of the modern-day breakthroughs and the analytical techniques used to enable them. For the first of these we jump to the 1940’s and the work of Roger Williams.
In April 2017, Kirk Hansen and his team described a 3-min method that exploits recent technical advancements in UHPLC and fast scanning high-resolution MS technologies14. They describe this as combining the advantages of rapid flow-injection TOF-MS with the selectivity of conventional chromatography-based metabolomics. While not applicable for the measurement of all compounds, the robustness of this approach makes it useful for the analysis of a wide range of biological matrices relevant to basic science and clinical routine practice, including biofluids, cell and tissue extracts.