10 January 2020
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The strength of collaboration between biobanks

Researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam discovered that the level of specific blood metabolites is heritable and that part of the heritability is explained by known genetic variants. Lead investigator Fiona Hagenbeek used data collected within BBMRI for twin families of the Netherlands Twin Register. The results were published in Nature Communications.

Metabolomics examines the small molecules involved in cellular metabolism. These metabolites are at the center of attention as they play an important role in complex diseases. Studies of the BBMRI consortium showed that different metabolites correlated with diseases such as depression, migraine, diabetes but also cognition. Therefore, it is crucial to have a better understanding of factors that influence metabolite levels. Approximately 50% of total differences in metabolite levels is due to genetic variance, but heritability estimates differ across metabolite classes.

Lead investigator Fiona Hagenbeek did a twin family study and looked at the heritability of metabolite levels and the different heritability across metabolite classes. For lipids and organic acids she investigated whether these differences were found predominantly in the genetic variant of that specific class or in other classes.

Common genetic variants important for metabolite levels
More than 800 class-specific metabolite loci were found to be associated with metabolite levels. The study furthermore revealed significant differences in heritability among different classes of lipids and organic acids. Hagenbeek explains that metabolites can provide leads for new biomarkers and more insight into the relation between genotype and disease or health: “Our new knowledge about the heritability of metabolites brings the use of metabolite patterns as biomarker a step closer.”

BBMRI-omics atlas
The article 'Heritability estimates for 361 blood metabolites across 40 genome-wide association studies'  summarizes 10 years of genetic association studies to metabolites. It shows the power and importance of large-scale collaboration between different biobanks in the Netherlands in BBMRI and the strength of combining data from twin-studies with omics-data. 

The metadata of 10 years of metabolite genetic association studies are accessible for anyone. The BBMRI – omics atlas gives access to the summary data of all association studies that have been performed by the BBMRI-NL consortium. It is an interactive webtool that allows you to explore the comprehensive collection of public atlases on the relationship between molecular data and disease phenotypes.