Arthur S. Edison, Ph.D.
Metabolomics and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance
The University of Georgia
Metabolism is the power-production activity of life – it’s the chemical changes happening inside cells to provide energy for essential processes. Small molecules called metabolites are byproducts in this process, and they’ve been the focus of increasing attention by scientists. The fast-growing field of metabolomics is deepening understanding of metabolites, thus revealing a wealth of new knowledge about the life and health of organisms.
In this field, Art Edison is a leader. Not only has he uncovered new findings about metabolites; he’s also improved instrumentation and techniques to allow other scientists to advance their exploration into metabolomics.
Edison came to the University of Georgia in 2015 from the University of Florida, where he launched a research center for studying metabolomics on a large scale. There, he established new protocols and best practices for research necessities, such as consistent measurements, quality control and data storage.
At UGA, a primary focus of study involves an organism called Caenorhabditis elegans. It’s a tiny worm with a basic biology that makes it a good vehicle for life science exploration, including better understanding the role metabolomics plays in the worm’s development and behavior. By studying the metabolome of C. elegans, Edison’s lab is learning a lot about metabolites that exist in all forms of life.
Edison’s primary analytical tool is Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), a technique that provides an atomic-level view of molecules in a biological sample. He leads UGA’s world-class NMR facility, which in 2023 will be home to a 1.1-gigahertz NMR spectrometer, a powerful instrument that will provide remarkably precise views of the smallest of matter. Edison is co-principal investigator of a $40 million NSF-funded project that is bringing the spectrometer to Georgia. In that role, he’ll further evolve UGA’s infrastructure and expertise to support the state’s university scientists as well as researchers from around the world.
NMR works by placing a biological sample into a probe, which is then positioned in the center of a powerful magnetic field. Traditionally, probes are made of copper wire; Edison’s lab is fashioning more sensitive probes from a super-conductive material, allowing stronger signals that generate more biological information from the samples.
In a research project launched in 2021, Edison is using these new probes to study metabolites released by phytoplankton in the ocean. (These metabolites feed part of the ocean’s ecosystem, but studying them is enormously complex – and in fact, many of the metabolites are yet to be discovered.) The new technology will allow Edison and partners inside and outside UGA to gain a new view of metabolites. That view is expected to illuminate the critical carbon cycle that exists in the shallow ocean, yielding data that informs new ways to address climate change.
Another key technique pioneered by Edison and his team is the use of 13C, a carbon isotope that offers researchers the improved ability to identify individual metabolites by NMR as well as through mass spectrometry, a complementary technique for studying molecules. These methods, combined with the more sensitive NMR instruments, are powering a new approach to metabolomics – in essence, better data, gathered faster.
Much of this work has great potential for improving medical treatments, and Edison is engaged in using metabolomics to support research leading to greater use of precision medicine. One such project involves University of Georgia and Georgia Tech researchers who are working to find ways to manufacture human cells for therapies. Edison and his team are crafting the NMR “fingerprint” of these cells to create consistency in how they are manufactured.
- Using NMR technology to identify the structure of metabolites
- Using experimental and computational techniques to understand the role of metabolites in biology
- Developing new, more sensitive NMR probes to identify more biological structures, faster
- Applying NMR technology to advance the widespread manufacturing of cells for cell-based therapies
Straight from the Scholar
“GRA is remarkable. The endowment they help provide means I have funding to explore new things that I just couldn't do otherwise. The NMR facility I now direct is also an amazing resource. Combined with the new $40 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the facility will expand our support of other researchers at UGA and around the country. Athens is a great place to live, and UGA is an outstanding university that encourages and nurtures collaboration.”