What we do

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At AgResearch we have one of the largest metabolomics facilities in Oceania. This is an overview of our instrumentation and what we do.

The AgResearch Metabolomics platform runs three main types of analyses:

  • Untargeted metabolomics
  • Untargeted lipidomics
  • Targeted metabolomics

To date, we have analysed a wide range of samples, including human blood and tissue, soil, plants, food, milk, animal samples and breath.

Untargeted metabolomics aims to measure all the metabolites in a sample, irrespective of if they are identified or not. We use accurate mass spectrometers coupled to liquid chromatography (Thermo Exactive LC-HRMS instruments, if you were wondering) to separate metabolites in a mixture and detect them. We use two different types of chromatography to identify as many metabolites as possible, and generally we will detect a wide range of amino acids, plant secondary metabolites, lipid metabolism intermediates, mono and disaccharides, amines and organic acids.

Untargeted lipidomics is similar to untargeted metabolomics except the focus is on lipids. Lipids are a diverse subclass of metabolites and are involved in many cellular processes. We extract lipids to separate them from other molecules in a sample and use accurate mass spectrometry (Thermo qExactive LC-HRMS) to detect lipids. In a typical sample, around 150-250 lipids can be identified and many more detected. Lipid classes include tri- and diglycerides and phospholipids. 

Targeted metabolomics is the analysis of a wide range of known compounds in a sample (measuring ‘target’ metabolites). We use gas chromatography coupled to a tandem mass spectrometer (Shimadzu GCMS TQ8040) to measure up to 350 different metabolites related to central metabolic pathways. Targeted metabolomics is useful for studies where mechanisms are the focus rather than the discovery of novel compounds. Through our collaboration with Massey University, we also have access to a 700 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer to conduct NMR metabolomics analyses.

Rapid metabolic fingerprinting
We are investigating novel ways of acquiring metabolomics data, including rapid methods that acquire data directly from a sample within a few seconds. This includes Rapid Evaporative Ionisation Mass Spectrometry (REIMS) and Direct Analysis Real Time-Mass Spectrometry (DART-MS). Our testing with both methods has shown these to be highly promising methods for screening and gaining novel scientific information from samples. These types of techniques can help to fill the gap between time-consuming lab-based metabolomics analyses used for addressing scientific questions, and metabolomics that could one day be used for data gathering and diagnostics at point-of-care, on farm or in industry.

Through the wider AgResearch network, we have access to other analytical methods and instruments, including for fatty acid analysis, amino acid analysis, and rapid biomarker analysis using liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry.

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