Metabolomics and Bioactive Compounds

During the last decade, metabolomics has emerged as an independent research discipline which aims at the comprehensive qualitative and quantitative determination of all low molecular mass compounds produced by a biological system. It offers a fascinating field for mass spectrometry based research and enables to investigate how phenotypes (visible as the set of metabolites) are influenced by defined perturbations like e.g. inactivation of certain genes or co-cultivation with other organisms.

The working group. From left to right, back: Benedikt Warth, Christina Schneider.
                Middle: Jördis Prenner, Bernhard Kluger, Alexandra Simader, Nora Neumann.
      Front: Maria Doppler, Jacqueline Reiterer, Rainer Schuhmacher, Alexandra Parich, Christoph Bueschl.

Core activities

Our research is carried out in close cooperation with partners from various disciplines such as computer science, molecular biology, mycology, phytopathology or entomology and comprises the following core activities:

  • Development and application of advanced metabolomics workflows
  • Study of microbes, plants, insects & their mutual interactions
  • Analytics of secondary, primary & volatile metabolites
  • Purification, isolation and characterization of bioactive compounds
  • Quality assurance in metabolomics

Our approach

For the development of improved metabolomics workflows and their application in biological studies, we mainly use liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). While LC-MS serves the determination of non-polar, non-volatile (mostly secondary) metabolites, GC-MS methods are being developed to measure volatile and polar (mainly primary) metabolites.

With respect to the used methodology we have a clear focus on stable isotope assisted techniques. The use of stable isotopes such as 13C, 15N and 34S in form of labelled metabolites or globally labelled biological samples has several advantages, which we try to exploit systematically for the

  • improved capture of the entire metabolome of the biological system under investigation
  • more accurate comparative quantification of differentially produced metabolites
  • more meaningful and reliable annotation of metabolite structures
  • development of novel cutting-edge software tools for the automated processing of LC-MS and GC-MS raw data

Current Research Projects

In our research projects we are continuously working on the refinement of our metabolomics platform. In addition, the existing methods are being applied to study the metabolome of different filamentous fungi (e.g. Fusarium, Penicillium, Trichoderma), plants (e.g. wheat, maize and grapevine) or insects (e.g. ants). A major aim of our research projects is to provide novel basic insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying antagonistic (e.g. Fusarium-wheat or grapevine-phylloxera) as well as mutualistic (e.g. Trichoderma-plant) interactions. Our research does also contribute to improved analytical strategies for the study of the complex interactions between living organisms.