Scientists discover over 100 new fatty acids. What does this mean for us?

Credit: Nature Communications (2023).

Did you know that the waxes on our hair and skin, and the fats in our bodies, are all made up of something called fatty acids?

They are like Lego blocks, helping to build up various types of fats that our bodies need to function properly.

Some of these fats help form the walls of our cells, while others play a vital role in sending signals around the body, like helping us deal with inflammation (swelling and redness caused by injuries or illnesses).

Scientists from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia have made a cool discovery – they found 103 new types of these fatty acids in samples taken from humans.

This means we’ve just about doubled the known types of these important building blocks present in human blood plasma!

The team, which includes scientists from Adelaide and Prague as well, described these findings in the journal Nature Communications.

They also talked about a new method they came up with to make this discovery.

Professor Stephen Blanksby, from the QUT Center for Materials Science, explained that our bodies can make their own fatty acids, but we also get them from food. Once they’re inside us, our bodies can modify them to make them useful for different tasks.

“We know that changes in fatty acids and other lipids (more complex fats made from fatty acids) can provide vital clues about our health and diseases,” said Professor Blanksby.

“Blood tests can tell us about our cholesterol and other lipid levels, which can give us a snapshot of our health. With more research, these newly discovered molecules could also help us understand how our bodies react to diet or diseases.”

The team used advanced technology to study all the lipids in a cell, also known as the lipidome. This approach allowed them to discover new types of lipids and understand more about how they’re made in the body, which could lead to more precise diagnostic tests in the future.

Dr. Jan Philipp Menzel, a researcher at the QUT School of Chemistry and Physics, said the team used a special process involving a mass spectrometer (a device that helps identify and measure molecules) to find the new fatty acids.

“We looked at human blood plasma, cancer cells, and vernix caseosa, which is the white layer that covers newborns, and found different new fatty acids in each,” Dr. Menzel said. “Some of these fatty acids might come from food we eat, while others are likely made by our bodies.”

The team also found that the metabolism (the way our bodies convert food into energy) of fatty acids plays a crucial role in how cancer cells function. They’re still not sure about the exact role of some new omega-3 fatty acids (good fats found in foods like fish, walnuts, and flaxseed) that were found on the skin of newborns.

“The exact structure of a biomolecule (a molecule that’s part of a living organism, like a fatty acid) determines its function,” Menzel said. “Finding new structures could help us understand new ways our bodies work and could even help develop new diagnostic methods or treatments.”

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