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Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Jun 15;41(12):4458-64.

Metabolic profile biomarkers of metal contamination in a sentinel terrestrial species are applicable across multiple sites.

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  • 1Department of Biomolecular Medicine, Division of Surgery, Oncology, Reproductive Biology and Anaesthetics (SORA), Faculty of Medicine, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ.


In this study, we addressed the question of whether an omic approach could genuinely be useful for biomarker profile analysis across different field sites with different physicochemical characteristics. We collected earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus) from seven sites with very different levels of metal contamination and prevailing soil type and analyzed tissue extracts by 1H nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Pattern recognition analysis of the data showed that both site- and contaminant-specific effects on the metabolic profiles could be discerned. Zinc was identified as the probable major contaminant causing a metabolic change in the earthworms. Individual sites could be resolved on the basis of NMR spectral profiles by principal component analysis; these site differences may also have been caused by additional abiotic factors such as soil pH. Despite an inevitable degree of confounding between site and contaminant concentrations, it was possible to identify metabolites which were correlated with zinc across all different sites. This study therefore acts as a proof of principle for the use of NMR-based metabolic profiling as a diagnostic tool for ecotoxicological research in polluted field soils.

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