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Home > Press > Alberta researchers 1st to complete the human metabolome

Researchers at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada, have announced the completion of the first draft of the human metabolome, the chemical equivalent of the human genome. The metabolome is the complete complement of all small molecule chemicals (metabolites) found in or produced by an organism. By analogy, if the genome represents the blueprint of life, the metabolome represents the ingredients of life. In essence, scientists have catalogued and characterized 2500 metabolites, 1200
drugs and 3500 food components that can be found in the human body.

Alberta researchers 1st to complete the human metabolome

EDMONTON, CANADA | Posted on January 23rd, 2007

Today's announcement represents the starting point for a new era in diagnosing and detecting diseases through the chemical makeup of the human body. The Human Metabolome Project (HMP), which began in Canada in 2004, is expected to have a more immediate impact on medicine and medical practices than the Human Genome Project. This is because the metabolome is far more sensitive to the body's health and physiology. "Improving the health of Albertans is an important goal for the provincial government," said Doug Horner, Minister of Alberta Advanced Education and Technology. "This new innovation will enhance Alberta's reputation as a global leader in health

"Metabolites are the canaries of the genome," says Project Leader Dr. Wishart, Professor of Computing Science and Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta and Principal Investigator at NRC, National Institute for Nanotechnology. "A single base change in our DNA can lead to a 100,000X
change in metabolite levels."

This $7.5 Million project funded by Genome Canada through Genome Alberta, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Machine Learning, and the University of Alberta will have far reaching benefits to patient care. "I want to take this opportunity to sincerely congratulate Dr. David Wishart for completing this research which will definitely contribute to enhance the possibilities that applied genomics will bring to life sciences," said Dr. Martin Godbout, President and CEO of Genome Canada. "The results of this research will have a significant impact on the diagnosis, prediction, prevention and monitoring of many genetic, infectious and environmental diseases," stated Dr. David Bailey, President and CEO of Genome Alberta.

The metabolome is exquisitely sensitive to what a person eats, where they live, the time of day, the time of year, their general health and even their mood. The HMP, like its sister project, the Human Genome Project, is aimed at allowing doctors to better diagnose and treat diseases. "Most medical tests today are based on measuring metabolites in blood or urine," Wishart says. "Unfortunately, less than 1% of known metabolites are being used in routine clinical testing. If you can only see 1% of what's going on in the body, you're obviously going to miss a lot." Dr. Elliot Phillipson, President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation stated, "This is a shining example of Canadian-led science making breakthroughs that will improve the quality of life for people around the world. CFI is proud to have played a role in enabling this world-class project."

By measuring or acquiring chemical, biological and disease association data on all known human metabolites, the HMP Consortium, which consists of some 50 scientists based at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, has spent the past two and half years compiling the remaining 95% of all known metabolites in the human metabolome. Detailed information about each of the 2500 metabolites identified so far can be found on the Human Metabolome Database (HMDB) at . "These pioneering results from the HMP illustrate the power of linking creative and progressive researchers with partnered funding from provincial and national agencies. It will be exciting to observe the future impacts of metabolomics on day-to-day patient care in the clinical setting," quoted Bill McBlain, Senior Associate Vice President (Research) at the University of Alberta.

"The Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Machine Learning (AICML) has been a proud partner of the Human Metabolome Project since its inception. We plan to continue using Machine Learning technologies to help extend and understand this metabolomic data, and then use this information to make effective
biological and medical decisions," quoted Dr. Russell Greiner, Scientific Director Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Machine Learning. "With the data in the HMDB, anyone can find out what metabolites are associated with which diseases, what the normal and abnormal concentrations are, where the metabolites are found or what genes are associated with which metabolites," Wishart says. "It's the first time that this sort of data has been compiled into one spot. By decoding the human metabolome, we can identify and diagnose hundreds of diseases in a matter of seconds at a cost of pennies," explained David Wishart.

In partnership with Genome Canada, Industry Canada and the Province of Alberta, Genome Alberta was established in the fall of 2005 to focus on genomics as one of the central components of the Life Sciences Initiative in Alberta and to help position the Initiative as a core research effort similar to that developed for the provincial energy and information technology sectors.

Fast Facts about the Human Metabolome and Human Metabolome Project (HMP)

Project Start Date: 2004

Project Leader: Dr. David Wishart, University of Alberta

Number of Scientists Involved in Project: 53

Project Budget: $7.5 million

Project Length: 2004-2007

Project Based at: University of Alberta and University of Calgary

Project Home Page:

Human Metabolome: Human Metabolome Database ( ), DrugBank
( ), Human Metabolome Library ( ),
Spectral Reference set (NMR and MS data of reference compounds), Food
Composition Database (FooDB, )

Number of Metabolites in Human Metabolome: 2500 (about 3X more than

Number of Drugs in DrugBank: 1500

Number of Food Components in FooDB: 3900

Number of Compounds in Human Metabolome Library: 778 (worth more than

Size of Human Metabolome Database if printed as a Book: 30,000 pages

This is a Genome Alberta project funded in part with Genome Canada and
Canadian Foundation for Innovation, Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Machine
Learning, University of Alberta.


For more information, please click here

Donna Coad, Director, Corporate Communications,
Genome Alberta, Cell (403) 880-6336;
Ryan Smith, Media Relations Associate,
University of Alberta, Cell (780) 905-9181

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