At a ceremony officiated by University of North Texas (UNT) Provost Warren Burggren, Waters Corporation welcomed UNT’s Metabolomics and Metabolic Signaling Pathway Research Laboratory into the Waters Centers of Innovation Program. The laboratory directed by Professor Vladimir Shulaev is known worldwide for research in the field of metabolomics, the study of all cellular metabolites produced by living organisms. His laboratory is part of UNT's Plant Signaling Cluster, a team of researchers who collaborate to improve the understanding of cellular communication in plants to find solutions related to energy, agriculture, nutrition and medicine.
In addressing an audience of students, faculty and staff, UNT Provost Warren Burggren, a Ph.D. biologist, said, “I’m really proud to be representing UNT here to celebrate the opening of this exciting Center of Innovation. This is a university-corporate partnership at its very best. To use a biology metaphor, we look forward to a long, close symbiotic relationship between UNT and Waters; it’s a natural fit, a really natural fit, and we’ll each benefit tremendously."
Addressing the audience, John Gebler, Centers of Innovation Program General Manager, said, “Waters wants to put technology in the hands of individuals who are going to be really successful with it. Our hope for you is that your discoveries may help improve your lives and the lives of the next generation that comes along. For Waters to be successful, we have to partner with individuals who can take our technology and make the best out of it.”
Prof. Vladimir Shulaev said, “Two years ago, when I first arrived on campus, the idea of a state-of-the art metabolomics laboratory at UNT was a dream. With the hard work, enthusiasm, and belief by a lot of people we have seen that dream come true. And it is investments in the development of new instrumentation by companies like Waters that drives science to the cutting edge. Our new Metabolomics and Metabolic Signaling Pathway Research Laboratory will put UNT on the map in metabolomics research and create a facility for everyone to be proud of.”
Central to Prof. Shulaev’s work is mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography. “Advanced liquid chromatography combined with mass spectrometry is, in many ways, what makes metabolomics possible,” Shulaev noted. Shulaev refers to the laboratory’s Waters SYNAPT® G2 system as “the workhorse of our high-throughput metabolite profiling.” Also, like many leading laboratories around the world, Prof. Shulaev’s laboratory has recently taken delivery of a Waters® ACQUITY UltraPerformance Convergence Chromatography™ (UPC2™) system, which will be used primarily for lipidomics research. “Lipidomics is a large focus of the lab now – studying the structural lipids, as well as signaling lipids involved in a variety of signaling networks in plants and animals,” he explained.
Convergence chromatography is a new category of separation science which promises to rival liquid chromatography (LC) and gas chromatography (GC) in importance for the analytical laboratory.
Compressed carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary mobile phase for convergence chromatography, offers numerous major advantages over liquid mobile phases or carrier gases that are used with LC and GC. For one, CO2 alone, or in combination with a co-solvent, is a low viscosity mobile phase that achieves higher diffusion rates and enhanced mass transfer than HPLC liquids. For another, when compared to GC, CO2 allows separations to occur at a much lower temperature.
For institutions and laboratories with sustainability goals to meet, CO2 replaces toxic and volatile organic solvents that are very expensive to purchase and dispose.
For Prof. Shulaev, teaching the use of analytical instruments is another critical part of his work. “It's very important to train the next generation of scientists, especially in mass spectrometry, which is one of the big deficiencies now,” he said. “We need to have a big pool of people who understand mass spectrometry and technology – and not just understand it in theory, but in practice.”
With nearly 30 years of experience in metabolic biochemistry and plant and animal biology, Prof. Shulaev's research is at the cutting edge of a wide range of important scientific developments, including crop protection, cancer treatments and nutrition. Among his accomplishments, Prof. Shulaev is credited with helping to identify methyl salicylate as a new volatile plant hormone involved in plant immunity. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Prof. Shulaev has been an investigator on research projects totaling about $9 million.