Development and validation of a versatile non-invasive urinary steroidomics method for wildlife biomonitoring

Tom Cools, Kirsten S. Wilson, Desheng Li, Catherine Vancsok, Baptiste Mulot, Antoine Leclerc, José Kok, Marko Haapakoski, Mads F. Bertelsen, Andreas Ochs, Simon J. Girling, Yingmin Zhou, Rengui Li, Lynn Vanhaecke*, Jella Wauters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wildlife conservation is often challenged by a lack of knowledge about the reproduction biology and adaptability of endangered species. Although monitoring steroids and related molecules can increase this knowledge, the applicability of current techniques (e.g. immunoassays) is hampered by species-specific steroid metabolism and the requisite to avoid invasive sampling. This study presents a validated steroidomics method for the (un)targeted screening of a wide range of sex and stress steroids and related molecules in urine using ultra-high performance liquid chromatography coupled to high-resolution mass spectrometry (UHPLC-HRMS). In total, 50 steroids (conjugated and non-conjugated androgens, estrogens, progestogens and glucocorticoids) and 6 prostaglandins could be uniquely detected. A total of 45 out of 56 compounds demonstrated a detection limit below 0.01 ng μL−1. Excellent linearity (R2 > 0.99), precision (CV < 20 %), and recovery (80–120 %) were observed for 46, 41, and 39 compounds, respectively. Untargeted screening of pooled giant panda and human samples yielded 9691 and 8366 features with CV < 30 %, from which 84.1 % and 83.0 %, respectively, also demonstrated excellent linearity (R2 > 0.90). The biological validity of the method was investigated on male and female giant panda urine (n = 20), as well as pooled human samples (n = 10). A total of 24 different steroids were detected with clear qualitative and quantitative differences between human and giant panda samples. Furthermore, expected differences were revealed between female giant panda samples from different reproductive phases. In contrast to traditional biomonitoring techniques, the developed steroidomics method was able to screen a wide range of compounds and provide information on the putative identities of metabolites potentially important for reproductive monitoring in giant pandas. These results illustrate the advancements steroidomics brings to the field of wildlife biomonitoring in the pursuit to better understand the biology of endangered species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number125924
Number of pages8
Early online date22 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2024


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