Measuring biological responses in resident biota is a commonly used approach to monitoring polluted habitats. The challenge is to choose sensitive and, ideally, stressor-specific endpoints that reflect the responses of the ecosystem. Metabolomics is a potentially useful approach for identifying sensitive and consistent responses since it provides a holistic view to understanding the effects of exposure to chemicals upon the physiological functioning of organisms. In this study, we exposed the aquatic non-biting midge, Chironomus tepperi, to two concentrations of zinc chloride and measured global changes in polar metabolite levels using an untargeted gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis and a targeted liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) analysis of amine-containing metabolites. These data were correlated with changes in the expression of a number of target genes. Zinc exposure resulted in a reduction in levels of intermediates in carbohydrate metabolism (. i.e., glucose 6-phosphate, fructose 6-phosphate and disaccharides) and an increase in a number of TCA cycle intermediates. Zinc exposure also resulted in decreases in concentrations of the amine containing metabolites, lanthionine, methionine and cystathionine, and an increase in metallothionein gene expression. Methionine and cystathionine are intermediates in the transsulfuration pathway which is involved in the conversion of methionine to cysteine. These responses provide an understanding of the pathways affected by zinc toxicity, and how these effects are different to other heavy metals such as cadmium and copper. The use of complementary metabolomics analytical approaches was particularly useful for understanding the effects of zinc exposure and importantly, identified a suite of candidate biomarkers of zinc exposure useful for the development of biomonitoring programs.
- Energy metabolism
- Gene expression