Metabolism is under the control of a combination of heritable and environmental factors. Teasing out how these factors interact could help to explain why metabolism differs between individuals.

Daniel Kliebenstein at the University of California, Davis, and his colleagues looked for associations between more than 200,000 single-nucleotide variants across the genome and levels of 327 metabolites in 96 strains of Arabidopsis thaliana. They found that only 23–30% of the variation in cellular metabolite levels was associated with specific sites in the genome. The team also noted that high genetic variation was not associated with high metabolic variation.

The results suggest that many small gene effects control metabolism, and point to the need to examine metabolism under a range of environmental conditions to fully dissect its genetics.

PLoS Genet. 6, e1001198 (2010)