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Title: Analytical and computational methods towards a metabolic model of ageing in Caenorhabditis elegans
Author: Geier, Florian
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2013
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Human life expectancy is increasing globally. This has major socioeconomic implications, but also raises scientific questions about the biological bases of ageing and longevity. Research on appropriate model organisms, such as the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, is a key component of answering these questions. Ageing is a complex phenomenon, with both environmental and genetic influences. Metabolomics, the analysis of all small molecules within a biological system, offers the ability to integrate these complex factors to help understand the role of metabolism in ageing. This thesis addresses the current lack of methods for C. elegans metabolite analysis, with a particular focus on combining analytical and computational approaches. As a first essential step, C. elegans metabolite extraction protocols for NMR, GC-MS and LC-MS based analysis were optimized. Several methods to improve the coverage, automatic annotation and data analysis steps of NMR and GC-MS are proposed. Next, stable isotope labelling was explored as a tool for C. elegans metabolomics. An automated stable isotope based workflow was developed, which identifies all biological, non-redundant features within a LC-MS acquisition and annotates them with molecular compositions. This demonstrated that the vast majority (> 99.5%) of detected features inside LC-MS metabolomics experiments are not of biological origin or redundant. This stable isotope workflow was then used to compare the metabolism of 24 different C. elegans mutant strains from different pathways (e.g. insulin signalling, TOR pathway, neuronal signalling), with differing levels of lifespan extension compared to wild-type worms. The biologically relevant features (metabolites) were detected and annotated, and compared across the mutants. Some metabolites were correlated with longevity across the mutant set, in particular, glycerophospholipids. This led to the formulation of a hypothesis, that lifespan extension in C. elegans requires increased activity of common downstream longevity effector mechanisms (autophagy, and mitochondrial biogenesis), that also involve subcellular compartmentation and hence membrane formation. This results in the alterations in lipid metabolism detected here.
Supervisor: Want, Elizabeth ; Bundy, Jake ; Armand, Leroi Sponsor: AXA Research Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral