New UNT laboratory named Center of Innovation by Waters Corporation

Signaling Mechanisms in Plants research cluster

A new laboratory at the University of North Texas aimed at helping researchers better understand the biological world has been named a Center of Innovation by the Waters Corporation, one of the leading producers of mass spectrometry technology. The lab also will serve as a training ground for the next generation of scientists.

Vladimir Shulaev, professor of biology (center), celebrates the naming of his metabolomics lab as a Waters Center of Innovation with UNT officials and Waters Corporation representatives during an inaugural ceremony; Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, Life Science Building in Denton. (URCM Photo/Gary Payne)

The Metabolomics and Metabolic Signaling Pathway Research Laboratory, which will be overseen by Dr. Vladimir Shulaev, a professor in UNT’s Department of Biological Sciences, will use analytical methods, such as mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography, to analyze the chemical make-up of living organisms. The ability to characterize small molecules called metabolites is a powerful tool for understanding how cells work and how cell function changes during metabolic processes.

Shulaev’s lab is one of approximately 20 laboratories world-wide to be selected for the Waters Corp. Centers for Innovation program, which recognizes analytical scientists facilitating breakthroughs in health and life science research, food safety, environmental protection, sports medicine and many other areas. The opening of the lab and induction into the Centers of Innovation program was held on the UNT campus on Sept. 19 (Wednesday).

As a Center of Innovation, Shulaev’s team will be able to use newly commercialized instrumentation and technology on an evaluative basis. The lab already includes an impressive collection of instruments, rarely found outside of the top biomedical labs. Recently, the lab took possession of the Waters ACQUITY UltraPerformance Convergence Chromatography (UPC2) System, a tool for measuring concentrations of molecular species, or molecules, present in a sample with the objective of learning as much as possible about the makeup or composition of the sample. Shulaev also uses the Waters SYNAPT G2 system, which he describes as “the workhorse of high-throughput metabolite profiling.” 

Additionally, Shulaev’s team will collaborate with the Waters Corp. in an effort to develop new technologies and metabolomics applications for the various analytical tools.

“In selecting Dr. Shulaev's laboratory for Centers of Innovation status, Dr. Shulaev will have input into the development of cutting-edge techniques and technologies that will benefit his research and lead to new discoveries,” said John Gebler, General Manager - Waters Centers of Innovation Program.

Metabolomics has a number of practical applications, including understanding human disease and improving agricultural crops. Shulaev, a member of UNT’s Signaling Mechanisms in Plants research cluster, says the technologies in his lab can help better understand the molecules that respond to stress in plants, giving researchers the tools to improve natural defenses in crops. Metabolomics also can help to identify novel plant-derived chemicals with potential benefits for human health and nutrition.

“Most of the equipment in our Metabolomics lab is state-of-the-art and some is unique. There are few labs that have this kind of equipment. For instance, we are now focusing on imaging using mass spectrometry. We can look at the tissue level to see how the molecules are distributed in the tissue. We have one of the best labs, especially if you talk about plant signaling, in academia,” Shulaev said. “These tools will improve the technical capabilities of our plant signaling research cluster significantly.”

Shulaev also says the new lab and the relationship with the Waters Corporation will facilitate teaching the use of analytical instruments to students at all levels of study. 

“It's very important to train the next generation of scientists, especially in mass spectrometry, which is one of the big deficiencies now,” Shulaev said  “We need to have a big pool of people who understand mass spectrometry and technology – and not just understand it, but who can work with it from the very beginning in college.”

He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Shulaev has been an investigator on research projects totaling about $9 million.

— Alyssa Yancey / UNT News Service