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New global data platform facilitates researchers across the world in linking genetic and metabolic data

Published on
February 16, 2021

Metabolism is the process by which cells in humans, as well as plants, animals and other organisms, produce metabolites such as amino acids, carbohydrates and hormones. These metabolites are invaluable. A new, global data platform set up by Wageningen University & Research will make it much easier for researchers worldwide to link genetic and other information about metabolites, the organisms that produce them ánd the process of metabolism. This will pave the way for faster identification of currently unknown metabolites that, for example, possess antibiotic or antiviral capacities, or contribute to increased crop yields.

The new platform is an initiative of the Bioinformatics Group of Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and can be found online via https://pairedomicsdata.bioinformatics.nl. A publication about the platform was published on the website of the leading journal Nature Chemical Biology.

Paired Omics Data Platform

WUR's Bioinformatics Group specialises in the development of algorithms and software that can be used to unravel the structure and function of DNA and metabolites from plants, bacteria and fungi and to search for specific characteristics. However, in complex samples, tracing the structures of metabolites and of the organism that produces them remains a very difficult challenge. It is also difficult to find out which genes are responsible for the production of certain metabolites. The Paired Omics Data Platform should simplify this process and contribute to a faster characterisation of new metabolites. 

The Paired Omics Data Platform stores links between genomics and metabolomics data of bacteria, fungi, and plants (top). Moreover, links between specific genes and the metabolite structures they encode for together with their mass spectra can be recorded (bottom).
The Paired Omics Data Platform stores links between genomics and metabolomics data of bacteria, fungi, and plants (top). Moreover, links between specific genes and the metabolite structures they encode for together with their mass spectra can be recorded (bottom).

Global collaboration

The platform has been created in cooperation with researchers from the Netherlands eScience Center and the University of California San Diego (USA). Together, they have set up a consortium of more than one hundred scientists from more than ten different countries. All these scientists provided feedback on the content of the platform, and filled it with more than 4800 linked genomic and metabolic datasets from various organisms and microbial communities. The platform is already being used to develop new algorithms to automatically link gene clusters and metabolite spectra.

Feeding the world population

"Considering that the world's population will grow significantly in the coming decades, we hope to discover, for example, which bacteria produce metabolites that promote plant growth and crop yields", says research leader Justin van der Hooft. "But you could also map out which metabolites have an antibiotic or antiviral effect and in which organisms they occur. This is not only important from the point of view of health promotion, but can also highlight the need to better protect certain organisms and biodiversity in general."