New approach enables better characterization of the human exposome
NIEHS-funded researchers developed a scalable workflow that maximizes the information captured about unidentified chemicals in human samples to better characterize the exposome. The exposome refers to the totality of environmental exposures, potentially in the millions, experienced throughout a person’s life.
The team developed a new technique called express liquid extraction (XLE) that prevents loss of chemicals, common with current sample extraction approaches, thereby allowing for better identification of a wider array of substances. XLE is used with traditional gas chromatography-high resolution mass spectrometry and is then paired with sophisticated computational tools. The workflow allows researchers to quantify known environmental chemicals and potentially identify thousands of unknown chemicals in diverse biological samples, such as plasma, lung, and stool.
According to the researchers, the automated workflow integrates computational methods for data extraction, preprocessing, and spectral annotation to quantify environmental chemicals based on reference standards. Because the approach captures more information about chemicals and leverages sophisticated computational tools, scientists may be better able to predict structures of unknown chemicals in human samples. The workflow also improves the interoperability of data collected using different mass spectrometry techniques. Interoperability means data use similar formats and vocabularies, which is critical for increasing confidence in compound identification in exposome research.
A critical need for high-throughput, low-cost, omics-scale biomonitoring data for exposome research in human population studies is addressed through this workflow, according to the team. The approach also will help to harmonize exposome analyses, thus enabling development of human exposome databases to include information on tens of thousands of chemical exposures in tens of thousands of individuals.
Citation: Hu X, Walker DI, Liang Y, Smith MR, Orr ML, Juran BD, Ma C, Uppal K, Koval M, Martin GS, Neujahr DC, Marsit CJ, Go YM, Pennell KD, Miller GW, Lazaridis KN, Jones DP. 2021. A scalable workflow to characterize the human exposome. Nat Commun 12(1):5575.