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A Cure for the Post-ASMS Blues

I’m back! And (just about) over the jet lag. I had a fantastic time in Minneapolis – it was great to meet so many of you in person after a strange few years of screen-to-screen interactions. That said, I’ve seen a few Twitter anecdotes confirming our fears that COVID-19 might do the rounds after the show, so I hope the majority of you remain healthy and wish a speedy recovery to those who’ve not been so lucky. 

I know I only managed to scratch the surface of the incredible science on offer last week, but some of my highlights include Albert Heck’s talk on personalized serology, the DEI workshop on helping prevent burnout in underrepresented groups (hosted by Candice Ulmer of the ASMS Diversity & Inclusion Committee), Erin Baker’s Biemann Medal lecture, the closing plenary, and, of course, all the free SWAG (stuff we all get). 

If you were there, reminisce on a great conference with me in the highlights below. If you weren’t, this is your chance to peek inside the Minneapolis Convention Center doors.

Personalized serology

“How many immunoglobulins are there circulating in our blood?” This is the question Albert Heck posed at the beginning of his talk on combining top-down and bottom-up analysis for the quantitative monitoring of individual clones in antibody repertoires. According to Heck, the numbers are staggering – around 1015 in total. “No one has really looked at how many antibodies are present in our blood because of the sheer number,” he says. To overcome this challenge, he and his team developed a new antibody profiling method based on collecting Fab fragments and classifying them using LC-MS. “Our results show that in reality, only a few dozen clones exist for each individual, but that each IgG1 clonal repertoire is personalized to that individual.” You can read more about the story in the related paper or in our feature here

Homo naledi and the chamber of secrets

Paleoanthropologist Jeremy DeSilva took to the stage (props and all) for his plenary lecture to tell us about some of the most important human fossil discoveries in the history of the field. To kick it off, he began with the story of Lee Burger, who spent 20 years studying the fossils “pouring out of the walls” in cave sites in South Africa, only to be bested by his nine year old son, Matthew. How? Using Google Earth (yup) to study the landscape, the team honed in on 500 more cave sites by spotting clusters of water-dependent trees. One day, Matthew Burger accompanied his Dad to one of the sites and stumbled across a rock. But this wasn’t any old rock – he’d actually just discovered one of the best preserved human skulls ever found. In total, this cave produced two adults, one pre-teen, one toddler, and an infant. 

In another story, DeSilva told us about the Rising Star cave, where some amateur “spelunkers” found bones lying “Indiana Jones-style” on the cave floor. “I thought there was no way these were fossilized,” said DeSilva. “I thought we should call the police!” But he was wrong. In the end, this site produced more human fossils in one night than the entire African continent had in 109 years. With 60 international collaborators, the team identified an entirely new species, Homo naledi, which appeared to be around 300,000 years old. This discovery turned out to be the first evidence of ritualistic burial of the dead outside of Homo sapiens

The takeaway? “This story serves as an awakening that there are so many more fossils yet to be discovered.” 

Award winning advice

Here are some of the quotes Erin Baker used in her Biemann Medal lecture – some her own advice, some from previous winners: 

  • If you didn’t publish it, you didn’t do it!
  • Learn how to cherish criticism. It makes you stronger and better, even if you don’t agree with it. 
  • Know that you are not alone in feeling nervous for presentations! Beta blockers do help, so does yoga! 
  • Work with people who are smarter than you and complement your expertise. 
  • You’re not going to get results overnight, many important discoveries take time! 
  • You’re going to face adversity in most jobs. Self belief is essential.
  • Be the change you want to see. Think: what changes are needed in our field? How can you help make these changes? 

If you’ve got your own highlights to share, or anything else you want to chat about,get in touch

The latest releases

As usual, several companies have timed the release of their new instruments for the show, so I thought I’d end with a selection of new MS product releases: 

  • Waters introduced Xevo G3 – a quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer, which the company says is up to 10 times more sensitive than its predecessor for qualitative and quantitative analyses of challenging molecules. 
  • Bruker’s new DART-EVOQ triple quadrupole mass spectrometer for high-throughput quantitative analyses is a “point-of-need” device that doesn’t require chromatography separations.
  • Agilent launched two new systems at ASMS: the Agilent 6475 triple quadrupole LC/MS, with automated sample reinjection and new software updates, as well as the Agilent single quadrupole 5977C GC/MSD, which supports hydrogen carrier gas.  
  • Sciex’s Zeno Swath DIA, an evolution of the ZenoTOF 7600 system, promises run times of as short as five minutes with minimal compromise in proteome coverage.
  • Shimadzu’s “space-saving” LCMS-2050 Single Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer is apparently 43 percent more energy efficient, and can analyze a wide range of compounds from multiple chemical classes with its dual ion source.
  • The Thermo Fisher Scientific Direct Mass Technology mode augments Q Exactive UHMR Hybrid Quadrupole-Orbitrap mass spectrometers with charge detection capabilities, allowing direct mass determination of thousands of individual ions in a single spectrum.

Last year, Sciex’s ZenoTOF 7600 system took the top spot in The Analytical Scientist’s Innovation Awards, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more MS innovations on the winner’s list this year.

Nominations will open in the summer.

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About the Author
Lauren Robertson

By the time I finished my degree in Microbiology I had come to one conclusion – I did not want to work in a lab. Instead, I decided to move to the south of Spain to teach English. After two brilliant years, I realized that I missed science, and what I really enjoyed was communicating scientific ideas – whether that be to four-year-olds or mature professionals. On returning to England I landed a role in science writing and found it combined my passions perfectly. Now at Texere, I get to hone these skills every day by writing about the latest research in an exciting, creative way.

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