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The First International Conference of the Metabolomics Society Tsuroka City, Japan, June 20-23, 2005
Functional genomic approaches have led to the assessment of transcriptomic and proteomic changes in a wide range of biological situations. Considerable effort is now being made to develop a third ‘omic level, the metabolome. The metabolome is represented by all low molecular weight metabolites in a cell, organ or organisms at specified time and situation. This conference discussed the various platform technologies through which metabolites can be measured and the data mining approaches through which key changes could be revealed.
The conference was hosted by the Institute of advanced biosciences at the Keio University. This university is based in the city of Tsuroka, located in the Shonai region on the North West coast of Japan.
The conference was a four day meeting and had a particular emphasis on the development of Mass Spectrometry (MS), Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), and Chemometric statistical analysis, based methods applied to various metabolomic systems. Most of the meeting was based on medical research, pre-clinical trials, pharmaceutical toxicology, and microbial metabolomics. Nevertheless, there was a specific Plant Metabolomics session, reflecting the fact that this is an area which is now developing rapidly. As yet, metabolomic research in plant pathology is still limited mostly likely, due to the technical difficulty of sampling metabolites from highly heterogeneous pathogen-challenged tissue. A total of 37 prestigious scientists were invited to talk over several programs including; Metabolomics Technologies (chair R. Goodacre); Plant Metabolomics (chairs L. W. Sumner & O. Fiehn); Metabolomics in Health Care (chair, R. Kaddurah- Daouk); Models and Pre-clinical Studies in Metabolomics (chair G. Harrigan). Approximately 200 posters were presented on metabolomic analysis over a diverse array of biological fields, 12 of which were selected to give short seminars.
I was invited to give a full presentation in the plant Metabolomics session and was the only plant pathologist presenting their work. My research is based upon several model pathogenic systems. The one producing the most-heterogeneous samples is based on the interaction of Magnaporthe grisea interacting with its alternative grass host Brachypodium distachyon (Allwood et al. , submitted). My metabolomic work in Arabidopsis has involved the use of transgenic lines expressing avirulence (avr) genes which are not recognised by plant resistance genes and therefore may function as virulence determinants. Expression of the avirulence genes is regulated by a chemically induced promoter. Activation of the transgene results in systemic disease-like chlorotic symptoms, thereby reducing problems associated with heterogeneous tissue. My conference talk was based on the metabolomic analysis of A. thaliana cell cultures inoculated with various Pseudomonas syringae p. v. tomato DC3000 genotypes. Such an approach further reduces problems due to cell heterogenicity and also allows the metabolome of the pathogen to be assessed. Such dual metabolomic research involving the modeling of two organisms is novel within any field of metabolomics. The bacterial lines that were used gave rise to, virulent, avirulent and non-pathogenic outcomes. Key signaling and defence molecules were found in both plant and bacteria which had alternate and consistent responses in each of the three infection scenarios. I was the only PhD student giving a talk and I received many useful suggestions.
Many informative and thought provoking seminars were given which were extremely relevant to my research, and provided excellent networking opportunities for future research. Of particular relevance to my work were talks from; Jeremy Nicholson (Imperial College, UK) on metabolite cross-talk between animal models and gut microflora which involved the simultaneous study of two organisms and that of Edward Dennis (University of California, San Diego, US) on lipidomics given that lipid-derived signals are of particular importance in defence signaling. Roy Goodacre & Doug Kell (Manchester, UK) gave an overview of the state of art chemometric (statistical data mining) and plant metabolomic methods. A particular focus of their talks was the potential of genetic programming. This is a computational methodology inspired by biological evolution where data sets are manipulated (equivalent to mutation and recombination) to outputs which best explain (i. e. having the best “fitness”) to explain the experimental observations. Other talks by Robert Hall (Wageningen, Netherlands) and John Ryals (Metabolon Co. US) (the well known plant pathologist who has previously worked on systemic acquired resistance) were critical reviews of various detection technologies particularly GC-MS analysis of flavor traits in tomato; and also the role of biomarker discovery in drug development.
Work on metabolite flux was a hot topic, although it is a targeted approach (important metabolite pathways are uncovered and then targeted for flux analysis). Presentations given by H. Brunengraber (Case Western Reserve University, US) on MS detection of radiolabeled TCA intermediate flux in animals, and R. G. Ratcliffe (Cambridge, UK) on NMR detection of plant metabolite flux were also of great bearing on my own research. All work and no play makes scientists dull boys/girls; I therefore took the opportunity to visit Tsoroka. Tsuroka is a small city set in a picturesque area of coastal plateau surrounded by mountains.
The conference included a sight seeing visit to a Buddhist temple and an ancient forest. Many opportunities including the conference reception arose to try the local delicacies, largely consisting of fish and/or large snail and rice dishes, with plenty of Sachi to wash it down with.
I, and my supervisors (Dr. Luis Mur, UW Aberystwyth; Dr. Royston Goodacre, Manchester) would like to take this opportunity to thank the British Society of Plant Pathology for their more then generous travel grant which allowed me to take up this excellent opportunity to present to a very prestigious audience of experts in the field of metabolomics.