Metabolites - What are Metabolites?

Metabolites are the intermediates and products of metabolism. The term ''metabolite'' is usually restricted to small molecules.

A primary metabolite is directly involved in normal growth, development, and reproduction. Alcohol is an example of a primary metabolite produced in large-scale by industrial microbiology.

A secondary metabolite is not directly involved in those processes, but usually has an important ecological function. Examples include antibiotics and pigments.

Some antibiotics use primary metabolites as precursors, such as actinomycin which is created from the primary metabolite, tryptophan.

Examples of primary metabolites produced by industrial microbiology:

Class Example
Alcohol Ethanol
Amino Acids Glutamic Acid, Aspartic acid
Nucleotides 5' guanylic acid
Antioxidants Isoasorbic acid
Organic Acids Acetic Acid, Lactic Acid
Polyols Glycerol
Vitamins B2

The metabolome forms a large network of metabolic reactions, where outputs from one enzymatic chemical reaction are inputs to other chemical reactions.

Metabolites from chemical compounds, whether inherent or pharmaceutical, are formed as part of the natural biochemical process of degrading and eliminating the compounds.

The rate of degradation of a compound is an important determinant of the duration and intensity of its action.

Profiling metabolites of pharmaceutical compounds, drug metabolism, is an important part of drug discovery, leading to an understanding of any undesirable side effects.


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