, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 3-21

Environmental metabolomics: a critical review and future perspectives

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Abstract

Environmental metabolomics is the application of metabolomics to characterise the interactions of organisms with their environment. This approach has many advantages for studying organism–environment interactions and for assessing organism function and health at the molecular level. As such, metabolomics is finding an increasing number of applications in the environmental sciences, ranging from understanding organismal responses to abiotic pressures, to investigating the responses of organisms to other biota. These interactions can be studied from individuals to populations, which can be related to the traditional fields of ecophysiology and ecology, and from instantaneous effects to those over evolutionary time scales, the latter enabling studies of genetic adaptation. This review provides a comprehensive and current overview of environmental metabolomics research. We begin with an overview of metabolomic studies into the effects of abiotic pressures on organisms. In the field of ecophysiology, studies on the metabolic responses to temperature, water, food availability, light and circadian rhythms, atmospheric gases and season are reviewed. A section on ecotoxicogenomics discusses research in aquatic and terrestrial ecotoxicology, assessing organismal responses to anthropogenic pollutants in both the laboratory and field. We then discuss environmental metabolomic studies of diseases and biotic–biotic interactions, in particular herbivory. Finally, we critically evaluate the contribution that metabolomics has made to the environmental sciences, and highlight and discuss recommendations to advance our understanding of the environment, ecology and evolution using a metabolomics approach.