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Canadian scientists release first draft of human metabolome
February 2007
by Chris Anderson  |  Email the author


EDMONTON, Alberta—Nearly three years in the making and $7.5 million later, researchers at the University of Alberta here emerged from their NMR and mass spectrometry laboratories to unveil the completion of the first draft of the human metabolome. The Human Metabolome Project cataloged and characterized,500 metabolites, 1,200 drugs and 3,500 food components with the expectation that this information source will have a more immediate impact than the did the release of the complete human genome.
"This is not just a list of compounds and structures," says David Wishart, project leader for The Human Metabolome Project. "It contains information about the genes and the proteins and compounds they act on, so it provides that critical link of the metabolome to the genome which is a significant development."
Near term, the central database is expected to save metabolomic researchers time, as previously they would need to search the published literature for information on metabolites. Often, bits of information on the same metabolite could be found in publications that occurred 20 or more years apart.
"The community was rather disconnected and disjointed and some of that comes from not having a consolidated resource," says Wishart.
The database has been released in dribs and drabs over the past couple of years, and the latest release of the human metabolome database (found at was the culminating event. Only one of three separate components, HMDB is complemented by the food and drug databases FooDB ( and DrugBank (
Wishart says DrugBank, released last year was "a surprise hit" among pharma researchers since it tied the drugs to target proteins.
Most likely future uses of the data would be to create diagnostic tools, he says, pointing out that today's diagnostic tests based on measuring metabolites in  blood or urine samples look for less than one percent of know metabolites.
Better diagnostics for a wider range of metabolites should also be of interest to pharmaceutical companies while they conduct clinical trials. "Compliance is a big issue in clinical trails. So, if people are following the regimen and don't improve, these new tests could potentially identify the ones that aren't taking the drug or who also may be fast metabolizers. These are the things that are possible using this information."
Code: E020716



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