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UMDB Is the IMDb for Chemicals In Your Urine

"We had no idea there could be so many different compounds going into our toilets," said head researcher.

by Daniel Stuckey
Sep 5 2013, 7:47pm

An encyclopedia of the chemicals found in pee has just been named by its creators: Meet the 'Urine Metabolome Database,' or UMDB.

David Wishart, a researcher at the University of Alberta has been looking at piss with 20 other researchers for seven years, and couldn't hold it any longer. The research has specified a myriad of chemicals—more than 3,000—floating around in one's liquid waste. Naming and specifying these thousands chemicals, or 'metabolites' in human urine could prove significant for the future of "medical, nutritional and environmental testing."

As a compendium of "chemical names, descriptions, structures, concentrations, and disease associations for thousands of urinary metabolites," the database will act as a resource for labs and institutions around the world.

Wishart said the study can help to develop faster, cheaper and more efficient medical tests. Tests for "colon cancer, prostate cancer, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, pneumonia, and organ transplant rejection" are just a few examples—prompted in part by the results of this study—that are already being developed and soon to arrive on the market.

"We had no idea there could be so many different compounds going into our toilets," said Wishart, whose team used cutting edge technology to analyze the pee, including "nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography." Implementing advanced data-mining techniques, the team kept a digital finger in the pages of 100-plus years of scientific publishing on urine as they worked.

Dating back thousands of years, urine testing has always been in the vernacular of human health. Until the 19th century, Science Daily explained, the ancestor of today's "uroscopy," the branch of urine analysis to examine "color, taste and smell" (emphasis added), was practiced as a primary method to identify disease. To this day, urine tests can tell us a number of things about metabolic processes and problems, blood sugar levels, kidney health, bladder health, and last but most dreaded—if an employee is using drugs.

"This is certainly not the final word on the chemical composition of urine," Wishart said. He explained that the UMDB and an understanding of the human metabolome is "having a far more significant and immediate impact on human health," than the more popular human genome project.

It looks as though pee has more roles to play in the future than we might have imagined before. One thing's for sure, if UMDB ends up looking anything like IMDb, then I can't wait to see what kind of behind-the-pee access a UMDBpro account will grant me.