Frontiers of high-throughput metabolomics.
The real-time quantification of changes in intracellular metabolic activities has the potential to vastly improve upon traditional transcriptomics and metabolomics assays for the prediction of current and future cellular phenotypes. This is in part because intracellular processes reveal themselves as specific temporal patterns of variation in metabolite abundance that can be detected with existing signal processing algorithms. Although metabolite abundance levels can be quantified by mass spectrometry (MS), large-scale real-time monitoring of metabolite abundance has yet to be realized because of technological limitations for fast extraction of metabolites from cells and biological fluids. To address this issue, we have designed a microfluidic-based inline small molecule extraction system, which allows for continuous metabolomic analysis of living systems using MS. The system requires minimal supervision, and has been successful at real-time monitoring of bacteria and blood. Feature-based pattern analysis of Escherichia coli growth and stress revealed cyclic patterns and forecastable metabolic trajectories. Using these trajectories, future phenotypes could be inferred as they exhibit predictable transitions in both growth and stress related changes. Herein, we describe an interface for tracking metabolic changes directly from blood or cell suspension in real-time.