Our Sponge Ancestry

Have you ever wondered how animals became so diverse? Professor Bernard Degnan at the University of Queensland and many collaborators embarked on a genome project that would hopefully answer questions about our origin and the evolution of animal complexity. The answers resided within the sponge genome.

Core Animal Features

Animal diversity. Click for source

The first step in understanding animal complexity is to identify what are the principle features associated with true animals. First, animals are all eukaryotes meaning they have cells with complex membrane structures including a nucleus. The eukaryotes then break into the unicellular and multicellular organisms (Metazoa). The multicellularity of animals contains six key characteristics: regulated cell cycling and growth, programmed cell death, cellular adhesion, developmental signalling and gene regulation, allorecognition and innate immunity, and the specialization of cell types. Degnan looked at each of these characteristics, but for simplicity I am mainly going to address cell specialization, the signalling pathways (neurons) and cell communication, the presence of tissues and organs, and motility of animals.

Sponges (Porifera)

Click for image source

Sponges (Phylum Porifera) are considered metazoa, but their general characteristics don’t seem to fit with what we consider a ‘true’ animal. These multicellular organisms do not have tissues and organs or a nervous system. A sponge adult is a sessile (non-motile) filter feeder with specialized cells to allow for water movement to go through pores and allow the organism to feed. Their unique features also allow it to completely change and adapt to its environment allowing these mostly marine species to persist for 800 million years! In general, this phylum may have cell specialization, but the remaining animal characteristics seem to be missing.

Amphimedon queenslandica Genome

a, Amphimedon queenslandica adult. b, Embryos in a brood chamber. c, Larva. d, Animal phylogeny based on whole-genome data. The metazoan stem leading to the animal radiation is shown in bold. Srivastava et al., 2010

Degnan sought out a sponge with ideal features for extracting DNA and genome sequencing. The final subject was a species of Demospongiae that they named Amphimedon queenslandica. Genome sequencing of this sponge revealed the same kind of gene size and structure that we have. Nearly 60% of the genome is similar to ours with about 1300 genes that are shared with all other animals. This means that the sponge gene architecture hasn’t really changed in millions of years and may be the common ancestor of all animals. Additionally, even though these genes have been preserved, the sponge is evidently not using these genes in the same way that we use them, indicating that the gene functions are not the same for all organisms.

Further analysis of the Amphimedon has also led to some changes to what we originally thought about sponges in general. The sponge has all the genes and components that we have for nerve cells suggesting this is the beginning of signalling pathways allowing cells to communicate with each other. This is not quite a nervous system, but a definite precursor to one.

Amphimedon queenslandica larvae. Click for image source

Also, the larval form of Amphimedon has a perfectly round pigment ring. The dark ring has long cillia around it that is responsive to light. Although sponges don’t have organs, this primitive eye certainly functions as one. Furthermore, signalling molecules accumulate at this spot suggesting there may be signals being sent and contributing to the pigment ring.

Degnan’s research also found many other components such as genes, proteins, and structures that support the sponge innovation of the six main characteristics of multicellular animals. Thus, the true origin and diversity of all animals lies at the point in which unicellular organisms branched into multicellular organisms and split into metazoans and the eumetazoans (see bold metazoan stem in phylogeny chart above). Surprisingly we all have a sponge ancestry that led to the further evolution and diversity of all animals!

Top 5 Take-Home Messages

  1. Genome sequencing can reveal more about our origin and animal diversity.
  2. Genes may have more than one function.
  3. The increase in animal complexity involves an expansion of gene functionality.
  4. Sponges are more similar to other animals than originally thought.
  5. The unique features of all animals started with the metazoan stem.

Further Reading

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Animal Sexual Conflict

Sexual selection, as I described in my previous blog, includes male-male competition and female mate choice. Both males and females want to maximize their reproductive success, but current research suggests that the strategies of males and females can create more of a conflict than a mutually beneficial system. Dr. Bob Wong from Monash University gave a recent seminar on his research regarding this sexual conflict. 

Are Dominant Males the Best Lovers?

Red junglefowl dominant males get the majority of copulations. Click for source

It is easy to assume that if reproductive success supports males to be dominant, then females must prefer the dominant males. There are many examples of the male-male competition “winners” to be the female preferred choice. In junglefowl the females mate with the winner of a cock fight. Similarly, the most dominant elephant seal gets to mate with the majority of females. A study with Alpine ibex demonstrated that these sheep must be of very high quality to win head-butting fights which may explain the female preference for the dominant male (click here for video on ibex). However, there are other examples that suggest dominance does not always correlate with female choice. 

Experimental set-up. (a) Step 1: male-male competition;
(b) step 2: female choice; (c) step 3: spawning; (d) step 4: egg
hatching success. Wong, 2004

Wong investigated sexual selection in Pacific blue-eyes to answer questions about female choice. After determining which of two males was dominant, Wong presented these males to a female (only the female could see both). The females did have a preference, but there was no significant difference between the dominant or subordinate males. So what do the females prefer? Further experimentation revealed that the females preferred the males that courted more vigorously, not necessarily a dominant male which typically has larger and longer fins. The consequence of this female choosiness is that the females will spawn sooner with their preferred male and have higher hatching success. 

Red-collared willowbird.

Another example of this scenario is shown in the red-collared widowbird where the bird with the biggest red badge is more dominant, but research shows females actually select for the longest tails. In some cases, male-male competition could actually hamper female mate choice as shown in quacking frogs where too many males can cause them to try and force copulation on females, occasionally killing them in the process. Clearly, dominant males do not necessarily make the best lovers.

Are Males Sexually Permissive?

Desert goby fish. Click for source

Sexual signals can be very costly to produce and maintain such as the intricate vocalization of the quacking frogs. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for males to be choosy as well? Wong explored this question with Desert gobies (click here to see feature video on Wong’s work with desert gobies). These unique fish live in extremely salty water that can greatly vary in temperature, and the males actually look after the eggs. Experimental research determined that the males directed more courtship behaviors towards larger females, which produce the most eggs. However, with such small habitats, maybe the gobies would just have to go with the first female they see. Wong looked at this by presenting a large and small female in different sequences. It turns out the order of the presentation is important and if a smaller female was presented after a larger female, courtship behaviors are greatly reduced. To further investigate female encounter rates Wong also found that the interval time between encounters is also influential. Short intervals created a significant difference in courtship behaviors for small or large females, but long intervals (24 hours) produced no significant difference. Wong’s research with desert gobies suggests that males can be sexually permissive and that the female encounter rate definitely makes a difference.

Southern Bottletail squid

A species of squid (southern bottletail) has also shown to prefer proportionally larger females, but for a very different reason. Male sperm is thought to be very cheap to produce, but the male squid preference for larger female is actually related to sperm investment. The female squid consume male spermatophores after mating which is used for growth and future reproduction. Males prefer larger females because they eat fewer spermatophores. It would seem that males can be choosy, but their reasons may vary. 

Conclusion

As Wong’s research suggests, there is certainly a sexual conflict with many animal species. Dominant males are not always the female’s preferred choice and may even negatively affect it. Additionally males may be choosy to maximize their own reproductive success. It is likely that there are benefits for male-male competition and female choice, but perhaps this greatly varies between species. In humans it is easy to see that female and male preference can be widely different which is typically attributed to personality. Perhaps there are personality differences as well for other species in regards to sexual selection? Evidently, there is still a lot left to be understood about sexual selection.

Further Reading

Gender Biases in Science

In general we humans like to put concepts into categories and make rules to help us understand the world around us. We then focus on the rules and not the exceptions to the rule, but in science not focusing on the ‘whole picture’ can lead to biases in research. Malin Ah-King, a gender researcher and evolutionary biologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, recently gave a seminar about the gender biases involved with sexual selection theories that demonstrates the problem of excluding the “exception”.

Sexual Selection Development

The overly large antlers of the Irish elk (Pleistocene period) may be an example of sexual selection involving male-male competition and female choice. Click for image source

In the 1800’s Charles Darwin observed animals such as the male peacock displaying his magnificent plumage to the female and the seeming male superiority in humans. He theorized that to maximize their own reproductive success, males are sexually selected to be dominant and females are sexually selected to be passive or “coy.” This theory of sexual selection was later enhanced by geneticist Angus J. Bateman in 1948. His study on the offspring of mated fruit flies led to what is now considered male-male competition and female choosiness – two components of sexual selection. Male-male competition is the competition between males in order to have the best reproductive success. Female choosiness is the preference of females for males with certain traits and/or behaviors. Along with male-male competition and female choice as part of sexual selection is anisogamy. Anisogamy is the fusion of a small (male) gamete and a large (female) gamete, which can be an identifier of gender. Once gender is determined, it can then be expected each sex will fit into their “role” of sexual selection.

Darwin-Bateman Paradigm

Charles Darwin. Click for source

Angus J. Bateman. Click for source

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What was originally started by Darwin and expanded on by Bateman has established today’s current views and understanding of sexual selection and gender. This Darwin-Bateman Paradigm is based on the following assumptions:

  1. Male reproductive success (fitness) is more variable than females
  2. There is a higher benefit of male multiple mating than for females
  3. Males are generally more eager to mate and relatively indiscriminate whereas females are less eager and more discriminating

These assumptions may be the supposed rule, but what about the exceptions? Ah-King pointed out that this is a very narrow sense of sexual selection and that this theory does not take into account reproductive success by chance, nor the role of female variations.

Switch-Point Theorem

The Switch-Point Theorem (SPT) is an alternate theory of sexual selection that is a gender-neutral model. This model includes the possible random or chance effects that may be involved in reproductive success that was not included in the Darwin-Bateman Paradigm. SPT predicts behavior on 5 parameters: survival probability, encounter rate, latency, population size, and w-distribution (theoretically what would happen if all males and females mated). These predictions demonstrate that random or chance effects do influence reproductive success. Unfortunately, this alternative theory has not been tested and is often overlooked. Even if SPT predictions were confirmed, it is likely that current views of sexual selection would still be based on the Darwin-Bateman Paradigm.

Sex is a Reaction Norm

Turtles have temperature dependent sex determination. Click for source

Ah-King takes a different approach at looking into male and female differences. Her research supports that sex is a reaction norm. A reaction norm in this sense is the wide range of physical characteristics or traits that a genotype can create, in response to different environmental conditions. Essentially this means that sex can be flexible aside from anisogamy where the gametes are associated with the male and female. Some examples of how these other characters and features vary are found in a wide variety of species.Turtles, for example, have temperature dependent sex determination demonstrating the influence of the environment. 

Anne Gonlt – bearded lady.

Sexual behaviors and roles may also vary such as the female competition that occurs in a species of gobies, or the parental Sexual characters can also be quite variable including genital morphology. In humans there are many examples of feminine men or masculine women such as a bearded woman. All of this variability demonstrates that sex is not as fixed as we tend to think of it and is actually quite flexible.care in seahorses and penguins.

Conclusion 

Historically gender bias has always focused more on the male which has no doubt greatly influenced the theory of sexual selection and corresponding research. The Darwin-Bateman paradigm, although biased, is still what dominates views today and as a result other theories such as SPT and Ah-King’s research can be overlooked and misinterpreted. By ignoring these “exceptions” to the rule today’s research could have a major gender bias. Ah-King hopes that by increasing awareness of these biases we may be able to find ways to address them.

Further Reading

Combining Research & Policy in the Antarctic

Professor Steven Chown from Monash University gave a recent seminar regarding some of his work in the Antarctic. Much of his research has used physiological traits such as size, growth rate, etc. to look at many different ecological implications. Chown’s work in the Prince Edward Islands has specifically demonstrated that research on physiology, abundance, and distribution can help implement policies for conservation. 

Prince Edward Islands

The Antarctic Treaty regulates all relations among the states in the Antarctic, and a part of this includes promoting scientific research. Some of their current priorities include managing non-native species, tourism, and climate change. The Antarctic Treaty works with collaborators and scientists like Chown to address these important concerns and priorities. 

Prince Edward Islands. click for source

The Prince Edward Islands were the main destination of focus for Chown and his researchers. Marion Island in particular has been familiar with non-native species since 1949 when five cats (one female) were brought to resolve a mice problem. Unfortunately, the cats multiplied quickly and were more interested in eating petrels (seabird) than the mice. A cat eradication program was established and since the 1990’s it is believed that there are no remaining cats on the island. Although cats may no longer be a problem, slugs and springtails are. 

Invasive Slugs

Deroceras panormitanum (slug). Click for source

A particular slug species (Deroceras panormitanum) has become very abundant on Marion Island. Chown’s team of researchers looked at the metabolic rate and slug distribution to gain more information about these invasive organisms. They discovered that the slug is very susceptible to desiccation (drying out) and thereby seeks out habitats with high humidity below the vegetation. These areas are like miniature rainforests for slugs. Although this preferred habitat is found in many areas of the island, the slugs are found mostly in coastal peak areas. Further investigation revealed that they have a low tolerance for salty soil and very low or freezing temperatures. This means that although there are a lot of slugs, they won’t go everywhere because they can’t survive all environments on the island.

Invasive Springtails

Pogonognathellus flavescens

Another interesting invasive species is the springtail (Pogonognathellus flavescens). Springtails seem to live only in patches of very specific areas on Marion Island. By analyzing the development of springtail eggs, Chown determined the species have a habitat preference for lowland conditions. Surprisingly, they aren’t found in all the preferred habitat locations on the island, just the tussock grassland habitats. This seemed confusing to researchers at first because the springtails are not really restricted to an area due to predators or competition from other species. The answer is simple…springtails are slow. Due to their limited ability to travel great distances the springtails are quite happy in their tussock grassland habitats.

Making Policies

If slugs and springtails can’t get very far on their own, then they must have had help from someone. Although we humans don’t move these organisms around on purpose, we are a great contributor to their movement. Chown’s solution to the problem is that you don’t put stuff on the ground. Due to this research, there is now an elevated area for helicopters to land, and other resources to prevent transportation materials to collect unwanted species. Some additional unwanted species can include plants which have seeds that get quickly dispersed by tourism and researchers (approx. 70,000 seeds). Since it is impossible to have everyone not touch the ground, vacuum cleaning and seed collection helps limit the plant seed dispersal and researchers can learn more about where the seeds came from. Also, to continually manage the introduction of further non-native species, supply chain managers of the Antarctic have a checklist to follow for everything travelling to Antarctica (click here for checklist).

Marion Island helicopter site. click for source

Climate change, as mentioned before, is another Antarctic Treaty priority that researchers are working on providing additional information. Chown’s work on native and invasive species assists in these efforts. The native species have a low tolerance for high temperatures, but the invasive species like slugs and springtails have a low tolerance for low temperatures. By monitoring the physiological data of these organisms Chown can make forecasts and models about climate change that can help with conservation.

Conclusion

Chown’s physiological data and other research as well as policy efforts have greatly contributed to current conservation efforts in Antarctica. Not only has his work demonstrated the importance of taking physiological data in research, but also what can be accomplished when combining science and policy. It is through the collaborative efforts of research and policy makers that perhaps we can create management processes for multiple threats on our ecosystem. 

Further Reading:

Erasing Fear Memories

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could erase certain undesirable memories? Maybe something you once saw or experienced that you wish you could forget. Dr. Carol Newall, a clinical psychologist at Macquarie University, has explored this idea in regards to fear memories. Perhaps learned fear memories can be erased.

Fear Memories

click for source

When I say fear memories I am talking about some kind of learned fear to something, someone, or some situation (a stimulus). For example, a person may have been bit by a dog that led to a serious fear of dogs. In the movie The Italian Job ‘Left Ear’ explains “I don’t do dogs. I had a bad experience” (click here for movie clip). These bad experiences can lead to severe debilitation and anxiety disorders. As in the dog example, some people may completely avoid dogs, animals in general, or any possible location where dogs could be present.

Click for source

A classic example of the development of fear memories is the Little Albert experiment done by John Watson in 1920. This poor infant called Little Albert (approx. 1 year old) was introduced to a variety of objects including a live rabbit, a white rat, masks, etc. Researchers then paired the white rat with a frightening loud noise multiple times, creating a lot of distress for the child. Soon Little Albert was afraid of the rat even when there wasn’t a loud noise. Watson also found that this fear generalized to most furry things like a white rabbit or furry dogs. (click here for video of Little Albert experiment)

Fear Extinction

Treatment for people with severe fear memories often involves fear extinction. This is when the conditioned stimulus is presented multiple times without the situation or item that created the fear. In the case of Little Albert the white rat and furry objects would be presented many times without the loud noise. Over time Little Albert would no longer associate the loud noise (fearful stimuli) with the white rat. Unfortunately this primarily reduces the fear, but the association still remains. For example, if you went through fear extinction and no longer had a fear of dogs, your fear could be reinstated if you got bit again. This reinstatement of the fear demonstrates that fear extinction is not memory erasure.

Developmental Studies

Newall had studied fear extinction and reinstatement with rats. The accelerated development of rats allowed her to look at the differences of fear reinstatement or recovery at different ages. She found that the age at which fear extinction occurs actually determines fear recovery. The next step was to test this with humans and compare fear reinstatement in children and adults.

Woman’s face was paired with the audio of a shrieking scream. Click for source

First, all subjects were fear conditioned by presenting a picture of a frightened woman’s face and a shrieking scream (the screaming lady). After conditioning the fear of the screaming lady the subjects went through fear extinction where the face was presented, but without the scream. Finally, the screaming lady resurrection! The children and adults were then given the same women’s face with the shrieking scream. Through a self-report on the subject’s fear level and scream expectancy, Newall found some interesting results. The fear reinstatement occurred in the adults, but not in the children. Additionally, the children and adults had about the same scream expectancy, but nevertheless the children’s fear level was not very affected.

Can Fear Memories Be Erased?

Click for source

Newall’s research suggests that fear extinction may be more permanent with children than adults. Nevertheless, since the children were still able to match the adult’s scream expectancy levels, it is likely the actual fear memory was not erased. True memory erasure seems to still be a long way off. Nevertheless, this research leaves a lot open for further studies on fear erasure beyond conditioned fear, or work on anxious children and fear extinction.

Further Reading

The Toads Are Coming, The Toads Are Coming!

The Cane Toad. Click for image source

Invasive species can become quite a problem. One particularly troublesome invasive species in Australia is the cane toad. Fortunately, Professor Rick Shine and his collaborators at the University of Sydney have discovered five effective solutions for reducing invasive cane toad numbers and possibly eliminating them altogether!

Cane Toads in Australia

Cane toad spread from 1940 to 1980. Image: Wikipedia

Cane toads are very poisonous toads native to Central and South America. In 1935 cane toads were brought to Australia from Hawaii in hopes to control insect pests (cane beetles) in the sugar cane. Unfortunately the cane toads had no effect on the insects, but began to spread and grow quickly.

These nasty toads are very toxic and cause a lot of problems for Australia’s native species. Poor, unsuspecting native predators are not familiar with the toad and so their new meal ends in fatal poisoning. There has been a serious decline in many toad predators such as snakes, lizards and even crocodiles.

Australia has spent millions of dollars on trying to remove cane toads, but all attempts have failed. Some early approaches were to offer rewards for shooting or trapping toads. There was even an advertisement to play golf with them! This caused all kinds of problems because it’s not always easy for a person to differentiate between native frogs and the invasive toads. In the end, the toads have prevailed by increasing their numbers faster than we have been able to eliminate them. 

Cane Toad ad. Click for source

Shine Lab Research

Professor Rick Shine and cane toad. Click for source

Shine’s research group called “Team Bufo” has investigated this invasive species in depth. They have found that to solve a problem you need to understand it well. Their research to understand the cane toads has revealed five solutions to get rid of them.

1. Minimize breeding-site options

It turns out toads are very particular about where they choose to breed. They prefer shallow pools with lots of open edges. By planting dense vegetation around edges of these pools the cane toads will avoid them and we can actually control where they breed.

2. Infect them with parasites

Lungworms are parasites that actually came with the toad, and Team Bufo found that this species doesn’t actually affect native frogs at all. This parasite infects the lungs of the cane toads making it more difficult for them to breath and then greatly affecting their locomotor abilities. The cane toads at the invasion front are too fast and don’t get infected with the parasite, so if the lungworm is moved to the toad invasion front it can hopefully infect the majority of the group. Additionally the large toads are cannibalistic and are the most likely to survive. By infecting little toads in concentrated breeding locations we can increase the parasite spread.

3. Competition 

Native frogs actually breed earlier in the season and so their tadpoles are larger. The cane toads will avoid ponds with lots of frog tadpoles. When toad and frog tadpoles are together, the toad tadpoles are complete wimps. This tadpole competition reduces the toad tadpole survival and growth.

4. Native Predators

Meat ants devouring cane toadlet. Photo: Georgia Ward-Fear

Although many predators have found their death due to the cane toads, there are some Australian birds, rodents and insects that are not as affected by the poison. Carnivorous ants, in particular, may be quite helpful in controlling toad numbers. These ants are not affected by the toxin, but the toad will just sit still and be carried off by the ants expecting the toxin to have its effect. If we use cat food around water bodies with cane toads it will attract the ants and thereby help reduce toad numbers. Also, there are useful aquatic insects that eat toad eggs and tadpoles which we can help influence.

5. Toad tadpole chemicals

Smaller baby toadlets following exposure to the alarm pheromone. Click for source

A toad’s greatest competition is actually with other toads. Team Bufo’s research has found that tadpole chemicals may be the best method to reduce toad numbers and possibly eradicate them. The tadpoles have alarm, attractant and suppression pheromones that do not have any effect on native tadpoles. The alarm pheromone will actually hinder tadpole development and reduce their survival and size. Attractant pheromones lure cane toad cannibal tadpoles. Shine’s lab found that by using this chemical in a funnel-baited trap that can catch thousands of tadpoles. It is extremely effective and there are already community groups using this trapping method. Lastly, exposing toad eggs to tadpole chemicals was found to suppress the development of younger tadpoles. Apparently older and younger tadpoles were not meant to mix.

Conclusion

By using these five methods in combination with each other we will be able to restrict toad breeding sites, suppress their movement and development, and be able to possibly eliminate them completely. Shine has clearly demonstrated that you can find solutions to a problem by understanding it well.

Further Reading

The Rise of the Omics: Metabolomics

Last week I was introduced to the world of the omics. These are different fields of study in biology that end in omics such as genomics. As my background is more on animal behavior I have not spent a lot of time on the miniscule parts of an organism like genes and proteins. Nevertheless, a recent seminar by Dr. Ute Roessner, who works with Metabolomics Australia, opened my eyes to metabolomics and its applications, which may be of use in many different research areas.

What are the omics? 

If you’re like me, you may need an intro of the omics. There are many different omics being studied but here are the main ones with their Wikipedia definitions:

  • Genomics – study of the genomes of organisms: other genomic studies are split into the function, transcription, or even relationships of genomes
  • Trancriptomics – study of sets of RNA molecules (transcriptomes)
  • Proteomics – study of the structure and function of large sets of proteins (proteomes)
  • Metabolomics – study of metabolites and their chemical processes
  • Lipidomics – study of lipids including their pathways and cellular networks; this is a very new field that has branched from metabolomics.

Breakdown of different omics and their focus. Click for image source

What are metabolites?

The metabolites, which are the main focus of metabolomics, are small molecules like sugars or amino acids and have many functions. Metabolites are separated as primary or secondary metabolites. A primary metabolite is similar across groups of species and is involved with growth, development, and reproduction. Secondary metabolites are more species-specific and involved in other organism functions. The important factor is that when metabolites are identified they can provide more detailed information about the function and physiological state of organisms. The detection and identification of metabolites is called profiling and is a main focus of metabolomics research.

Metabolomics Approaches

Metabolites have their own kind of chemical fingerprint, but it takes some serious technology to be able to analyze. There are two main parts to the process: target analysis and metabolite profiling. In target analysis the researchers have to select the particular set of compounds and separate them from other compounds. The second part of the process is the actual detection and quantification of a large set of metabolites. There are different methods that can be used to complete these processes, but the first choice is gas chomatography for the target analysis along with mass spectrometry for the profiling (GC-MS). Basically, you can identify different compounds by the point at which they boil and vaporize which is how this method works. The benefits of this method is that, according to Roessner, the process is quite stable, easy to set up and learn, and is cost-effective. Unfortunately, GC-MS does not work with all compounds. Volatile compounds that have a high vapour pressure need to be analyzed with a liquid chromatography system (LC-MS). This is a more comprehensive and tricky method, but it provides a lot more options.

Workflow for metabolite analysis. Click for image source

Applications for Metabolomics

Click for image source

At this point you are probably wondering why anyone would want to go through such complicated methods just to identify small molecules. I assure you it has its uses. One of the best uses of metabolomics is in finding important biological indicators (biomarkers) for cancer, diseases, or other health concerns. Approximately 50% of all drugs are actually derived from metabolites! Additionally, metabolomics can be used to look at toxins and environmental chemicals, and even to monitor food quality. Currently there is research being done in metabolomics to explore the chemical components of grape-juice fermentation and how to make wine (wine-omics). 

Wine-omics. Borneman, Schmidt, & Pretorius, 2013

Although I’m not a wine drinker, I love cheese which is a great compliment to wine and wouldn’t mind if researchers used metabolomics to enhance the flavours in cheese. Stepping aside from the food and drugs though, metabolomics can give us knowledge. We can answer questions about biology, identify differences between species through their metabolic fingerprinting and learn more about how these small molecules function. Regardless of your field, there may come a time in which you may want to send a sample to some metabolomics experts and gain more information about your own work. Now just imagine if we can integrate all of the omics –  what kind of information we could gain!

Further Reading

Although many of my definitions are based off of Wikipedia to make it simple to understand, there are researcher articles with more extensive descriptions.