This week a research technology support centre opened its doors MarianneSommarin JohanSchnürer 2898 cmprMarianne Sommarin of Umeå University and Johan Schnürer from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences inaugurate the universities' joint Swedish Metabolomics Centre. SMC facility manager Jonas Gullberg looks on. Photo by Anna Strom©.
in Sweden for researchers trying to understand the metabolome—defined as the full complement of products resulting from metabolic action in an organism, tissue or cell at a given physiological or developmental stage—whether this metabolic system be the human one or that of plants and trees.

Headed up by a senior Bio4Energy technician, the Swedish Metabolomics Centre is guaranteed five years worth of funding to cover the centre’s running costs thanks to a “substantial” grant from the Knut & Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW), a Swedish fund. The grant means that activities at the existing metabolomics’ facility at Umeå University (UmU), developed in collaboration with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) since 2002, can not go on, but also be expanded and infrastructure upgraded.

“Our ambition is to become national centre”, offering access to advanced research instrumentation and on-demand provision of services such as metabolomic analyses by the centre’s technicians and experts, said SMC facility manager This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Provision of training courses in using the technology or conferences relaying research results could also be envisaged, he said.

Metabolomics, one of the so-called omics approaches to biology research involves trying to understand the makeup and function of the smallest components of the human body: the metabolites. They are not only smallest, they are also most numerous and subject to constant change; such is the nature of the human and plant-based life-sustaining metabolism. So to find out what makes a living thing tick, the metabolites could be the absolute starting point.

Umeå node 'leads' nation on plant-based metabolomics' research

Today medical and plant biology scientists are the chief customers of the existing testing and analysis facility which 12 March became the SMC. Researchers on the B4E Feedstock Platform are among its early users. However, centre director This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.said he hoped that the KAW funding would give impetus to an opening up of the facilities to further research groups or types of research.

“The technology has an enormous number of applications. The plant biology part [of testing performed at the facility] has focused on fundamental research, but there could be many other” lines of application, said Moritz, who is a professor at the Umeå Plant Science Centre that UmU shares with SLU.

Researchers will still be charged a fee for having tests performed on their behalf, but the centre’s services and infrastructure should be made more accessible by an open-access booking system which will soon come online.

“More than 40 research groups have already used the metabolomics’ facility. Our aim is to scale up our activities”, said Gullberg, who is listed on the SLU website as a member of its Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology department.  

Joining a two-day inauguration seminar to cut the blue-and-yellow ribbon at the entrance of newly refurbished labs to house the SMC, UmU deputy vice-chancellorThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.said “hard work” for a good decade by researchers and technicians in a “democratic and efficient” cooperation between UmU and SLU had paved the way for the KAW support by “holding the science part and basic research part [at] the top notch of science”.

Since last year the seasoned plant biochemist having moved onto serve the UmU administration is also chairing the B4E Board. She told us the start of the centre would come with new opportunities for running experiments and creating connections between experts on metabolomic analysis and bioenergy or biorefinery researchers in B4E.

“Umeå is the leading node in plant-based metabolomics [nationally]. We look forward to developing the collaboration on the NMR node together with Gothenburg. More collaboration is always good. There will be possibilities to work on a larger scale", Sommarin said with reference to new possibilites opened up by the fresh funding to avance scheduling of testing based on encompassing data sets and using complex analytical tools. Gothenburg University and UmU collaborate in a national node concerned with an analytical technique used in metabolomics called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. 

Several other academic institutions in Sweden offer or use platforms for performing metabolomics’ research. Chalmers Technical University in the west; Stockholm University, the Royal Institute of Technology and the Karolinska Institute in the Swedish capital; as well as Lund University in the south; all draw on NMR as a tool for determining the structure of organic compounds.

Swedish public radio and local press covered this event.

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