One of the main highlights of the chromatography calendar, HPLC 2023—which is held in Düsseldorf this year—kicked off on Sunday 18 June 2023. The event is a success in terms of attendance and attracted 1240 participants.
After an introduction from this year’s organizers—Oliver Schmidt from the University of Duisberg-Essen, Germany, and Michael Lämmerhofer from the University of Tübingen, Germany—Tony Edge from The Chromatographic Society (ChromSoc), UK, presented the 2023 Martin Medal to Janusz Pawliszyn from the University of Waterloo, Canada. The Jubilee Awards for 2021 and 2022 were given to Dwight Stoll from Gustavus Adolphus College, USA, and Martin Gilar from Waters, respectively.
Thomas H. Walter from Waters then received the Uwe D Neue Award in Separation Science, which was presented by Martin Gilar from Waters. Finally, Gunda Kollensperger from the University of Vienna, Austria, presented the J.F.K Huber Lecture Award of the Austrian Society of Analytical Chemistry to Deirdre Cabooter from KU Leuven, Belgium.
The plenary lectures dedicated to molecular phenomics started with a talk from John McLean from Vanderbilt University, USA entitled “Molecular Phenomics in Systems, Synthetic, and Chemical Biology” (1).
McLean explained that molecular phenomics aims to understand the comprehensive molecular basis of biological systems by characterizing the broad-scale changes in the molecular inventory of cells, tissues, and biological fluids. This encompasses various molecular components such as DNA, RNA, proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and metabolites, with the goal of unravelling the complexities of biological systems, and requires advanced technologies and computational approaches to handle the vast amount of data generated.
Although the Human Genome Project expanded our understanding of genetics, it also revealed that intricate biological complexity requires further investigation. Molecular phenomics focuses on collecting the molecular changes associated with specific biological states, exposures, and lifestyle choices.
To effectively capture data for molecular phenomics, analytical technologies must meet several requirements. These include minimal sample preparation, fast measurements, high concentration dynamic range, low limits of detection, and high selectivity. Additionally, computational approaches, combined with bioinformatics, play a crucial role in organizing and interpreting the vast amount of data generated in these studies.
Advances in computational biology rely heavily on the experimental capacity to make omics measurements, which involve integrated approaches such as proteomics, metabolomics, lipidomics, and glycomics.
Ion mobility-mass spectrometry (IM-MS) is becoming an important technology that allows rapid gas-phase electrophoretic separations based on molecular structure and can be integrated with fast mass spectrometry detection techniques. IM-MS has proven valuable in omics studies for the analysis of complex biological samples.
McLean highlighted research that used advanced IM-MS integrated omics measurement strategies within the domains of systems, synthetic, and chemical biology. These advances aim to address biological queries in an unbiased and untargeted manner using techniques inspired by artificial intelligence and machine learning. By leveraging these technologies, researchers can quickly mine the vast datasets generated from molecular phenomics studies, according to McLean.
McLean described some other application of molecular phenomics in practice, including microfluidic human-organs-on-chip that are being developed to replace animal testing in drug development workflows. This approach allowed researchers to mimic human physiological conditions to improve the accuracy and ethics of testing.
Molecular phenomics also assists synthetic biology to produce fine and commodity chemicals through rapid genetic editing experiments using clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR). By understanding the outcomes of these experiments at the molecular level, researchers can enhance chemical production processes.
McLean stated that, despite the remaining challenges, the potential of molecular phenomics is immense and offers comprehensive diagnostics and predictive capabilities that hold significant importance for society. McLean concluded that by unravelling the molecular complexities of biological systems, molecular phenomics can contribute to advances in human health and the understanding of fundamental biological processes.
Jeremy Nicholson from The Australian Phenome Centre, Australia followed with a talk on “Molecular Phenomics in Personalized and Public Healthcare in a Changing World: Lessons from Understanding COVID-19” (2).
The importance of molecular phenomics in the real world was explained in relation to COVID-19. Phenomics involves studying the interactions between genes and the environment throughout an individual's life and measuring the resulting physical and chemical properties that define phenotypes in both health and disease. In molecular phenomics, the focus is on examining the chemical and biochemical signatures of cells and biofluids, such as metabolites, proteins, and transcripts, and understanding how these signatures change during the onset, progression, and recovery from diseases. Advanced technologies like liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (LC–MS) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy are used to obtain multivariate signatures of various metabolites, providing valuable molecular phenomic data.
These signatures undergo characteristic changes during the onset, progression, and recovery from diseases. Cutting-edge technologies like LC–MS and NMR spectroscopy play a vital role in capturing the multivariate signatures of various metabolites to provide a wealth of valuable molecular phenomic data.
The global outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019 and the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic became one of the most urgent healthcare challenges globally and required swift advances in biological understanding of the disease. To gain insights into the systemic metabolic consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection, a diverse array of technologies was employed for targeted and untargeted analyses of biofluids. This approach unveiled the intricate complexities of the multi-organ impacts and systemic biochemical disruptions caused by COVID-19. It also offered new quantitative metrics to assess functional recovery and long-term risks associated with the disease.
By employing standardized exploratory and targeted metabolic phenotyping alongside immunology, researchers have made significant strides in understanding the journey from the baseline physiological state to the acute phase of COVID-19 and beyond, encompassing the "long COVID" and "recovery" states. However, the immuno-metabolic drivers of long COVID remain incompletely understood, highlighting the need for novel diagnostic, prognostic, and predictive tools.
Nicholson demonstrated the role of multiple phenomic technologies to investigate COVID-19 in patients. Samples were collected from diverse populations globally. This research produced a translational analytical strategy for monitoring and assessing the Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PACS) and functional biochemical recovery from the disease. Additionally, the research introduced novel diagnostic models and markers that hold potential for clinical deployment, according to Nicholson.
The analytical and informatics strategies developed and implemented in this research hold promise for understanding and managing COVID-19 as well as to prepare for future pandemics. Molecular phenomics could potentially serve as a powerful tool for deciphering the complex interplay between genes and the environment to evolve our understanding of disease mechanisms to improve health, according to Nicholson.
(1) McLean, J.A. Molecular Phenomics in Systems, Synthetic and Chemical Biology. Presented at: HPLC 2023. June 18–22, 2023. Duesseldorf, Germany. PLO1
(2) Nicholson, J.K. Molecular Phenomics in Personalized and Public Healthcare in A Changing World: Lessons from Understanding COVID-19. Presented at: HPLC 2023. June 18-22, 2023. Duesseldorf, Germany. PLO1