Dr. Helm uses advanced mass spectrometry techniques to explore complex biological problems such as cell to cell communication, focusing on quantification of proteins and metabolites.
Advances in nucleic acid technologies have provided DNA sequence and transcriptional profiling information for numerous important agricultural crops and animal species. These individual blueprints are only the beginning of a path toward understanding how an organism functions. The workhorses of biological systems, and the value-added products derived from them, are proteins and metabolites. Understanding the physiology of any organism requires ascertaining the temporal connections between the genome, proteome and metabolome under different environmental regimes. Such work is challenging; protein and metabolite levels are dynamic and cell type specific, adjusting in response to environmental inputs and genetic controls. Furthermore it is not possible to amplify the proteome or metabolome as is the case with nucleic acid technologies, thus one is limited to the compounds produced by the organism. The ability to detect, monitor and quantify key proteins and metabolites in foods, feeds, the environment, and tissues (both plant and amimal) are essential for the advancement of 'translational research.' The Helm Laboratory collaborates with numerous research groups on campus providing mass spectrometric analyses of metabolites and proteins in an effort to better understand microbial, plant and animal systems.