Molecular mapping made easy

December 21, 2017, University of California - San Diego
3-D map of the molecules on an ATM machine. This map demonstrates how we transfer molecules from our skin to the objects we interact with, providing information that may have many forensic applications. Credit: UC San Diego and EMBL

Every day, every inch of skin on your body comes into contact with thousands of molecules—from food, cosmetics, sweat, the microbes that call your skin home. Now researchers can create interactive 3D maps that show where each molecule lingers on your body, thanks to a new method developed by University of California San Diego and European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) researchers. The technique is published December 21 in Nature Protocols.

The goal of this 3D mapping is to better understand how from our surroundings, as well those produced by our bodies and the microbial communities on our , influence one another and our health. When the team previously used this approach to map the molecules on the skin of two volunteers, they found prevalent traces of sunscreen and other hygiene products, even three days after they'd last been used.

The 3D molecular mapping method is the brainchild of Pieter Dorrestein, PhD, professor in UC San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Theodore Alexandrov, PhD, team leader at EMBL in Germany, and their teams. They determined how best to collect the samples, determine their chemical composition using mass spectrometry, and build the mapping software used for analysis.

After they were approached by many colleagues from fields as diverse as forensics, cosmetics, ecology and agriculture, the researchers converted the 3D molecular mapping method into a step-by-step recipe with intuitive software and made it available to the global scientific community.

3-D map of the molecules on a rosemary spring. The old leaves at the bottom of the rosemary plant have much higher levels of the flavonoid cirsimaretin than the newer leaves at the top. Using maps like this, scientists can study how plants transport molecules from old leaves to young ones, or how they react to stress. Credit: UC San Diego and EMBL

Explore further: 3-D human skin maps aid study of relationships between molecules, microbes and environment

More information: Nature Protocols (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nprot.2017.122

Related Stories

New method maps chemicals in the skin

November 29, 2017

A new method of examining the skin can reduce the number of animal experiments while providing new opportunities to develop pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Chemical imaging allows all layers of the skin to be seen and the ...

How solvents affect the skin

January 17, 2017

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have developed a method that makes it possible to see how individual molecules from solvents in skin creams, medicated ointments and cleaning products affect and interact with the ...

Mapping the molecules made by a lichen's resident microbes

December 20, 2016

An international team of researchers has spatially mapped molecules produced by an intact, complex microbial community for the first time. Using a tiny slice of lichen, the team used imaging mass spectrometry to track and ...

Recommended for you

Using machine learning to design peptides

December 10, 2018

Scientists and engineers have long been interested in synthesizing peptides—chains of amino acids responsible for conducting many functions within cells—to both mimic nature and to perform new activities. A designed peptide, ...

Biomimetic strategy leads to strong, recyclable rubber

December 10, 2018

Inspired by nature, Chinese scientists have produced a synthetic analogue to vulcanized natural rubber. Their material is just as tough and durable as the original. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, they reveal the secret ...

Custom-made artificial mother-of-pearl

December 10, 2018

Natural mother-of-pearl, such as mussels, is one of the hardest, most stable and stiff natural materials. Researchers have always been fascinated by it. The structure of mother-of-pearl is exquisite under the electron microscope; ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.