Life is dynamic, complex, and interconnected—qualities that start with biomolecules, the primary target of PNNL’s integrative omics team. Researchers carefully break down, measure, and analyze them by employing mass spectrometry, bioinformatics, and computational biology.
Integrative omics unites the omics technologies used to dissect complexity in large and small biomolecules. Proteomics and lipidomics investigate the macromolecules of proteins and fats. Metabolomics investigates the small molecules that make up metabolites.
Researchers focus on the elusive fundamental biological processes driven by an organism’s molecules that control the key steps in growing and maintaining life. Other molecular level processes of interest lead to disease states in the human body and in all of Earth’s living organisms.
Omics-related PNNL inquiries range from environmental microbiomes in soil and plant systems to bioenergy, cancer, and chronic and infectious disease. Omics underpins much of PNNL’s biomedical and environmental scientific discovery and informs lab research into energy resilience and national security.
Dissecting molecular complexities requires developing new technologies.
For example, PNNL researchers developed a new tool for mass spectrometry called Structures for Lossless Ion Manipulations. It does molecular measurements a thousand times faster and with more sensitively than present technologies.
Integrated omics researchers also develop new technologies in chemical biology and bioinformatics, as well as new capabilities in mass spectrometry, protein-directed activity-based probes, informatics tools, and metabolomics libraries.
Integrative omics at PNNL spans many research areas. All of them benefit from collaborations with the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a Department of Energy science user facility located on the PNNL campus.
Environmental research uses omics to study carbon cycling, environmental remediation, microbial community dynamics, bioenergy, and mesoscale imaging of complex natural systems that are biologically relevant.
Health and disease researchers use omics to investigate cancer, diabetes mellitus, and infectious diseases. There are also studies under way regarding aging, embryo and lung development, the gut microbiome, the molecular signatures of exercise, viral pathogenesis, host-pathogen interactions, and chemical exposures related to diet, industry, and warfighting.
In the arena of systems biology, researchers in omics-related fields at PNNL are looking at different aspects of biofuel production, including photosynthetic microbes and lignocellulose degradation.
Chemical proteomics researchers address the pathways proteins use to regulate cell and organism function. Proteins are in charge of DNA replication, enzymatic reactions for metabolism, molecular transport, and other key life processes.
Measurements and methods
The PNNL omics separations and mass spectrometry group develops advanced chromatographic and other separations methods coupled with high-resolution mass spectrometry (MS).
The methods and instrument development team oversees advances in 1D and 2D liquid chromatography (LC) separations, multi-column LC systems, chemically etched emitters, and specialty LC applications.
Team specialists in new algorithm development push the boundaries of MS instrumentation and biological inquiry by improving the interpretive power of mass spectrometry and biological data integration.
Computational infrastructure research efforts include using the Panomics Research Information Storage and Management system for tracking the integrative omics group’s research and data analysis.