I worked in the McCullagh metabolomics laboratory at the University of Oxford, principally working with Dr David Hauton. We processed oyster tissue samples from three different sites across the UK which had been exposed to different pollution and parasite load levels. We wanted to see how the oyster metabolism, which describes the various chemical reactions required for organisms to live, changes across the sites.
Various crunching of complex data (which we got using liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry) and me posing as a chemist (I’m not) allowed us to decipher the differences in metabolic signatures between groups. Fundamentally this can tell us how the oysters are affected by pollution and parasites, and what internal processes might be altered.
This also allowed us to explore whether certain metabolites, the products of metabolism, can be used as bioindicators for environmental conditions. Metabolomics offers an accurate assessment of the real biological effects of pollutant exposure, providing early signs of the impaired health of an ecosystem. This gives a tool that may play an important role in biomonitoring ecosystems in the face of increased human environmental demands. We’re now working on a paper that fully explores the responses of oysters to environmental pollutants and parasites.
Above: Some quick initial analysis of the differences in metabolites across the sites using a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) (left) and potentially important metabolites that could be used as a bioindicator (right).
All photos taken by Annika Schlemm