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Techniques & Tools Gas Chromatography, Mass Spectrometry

The Ultimate Untargeted Technique

The rise of omics has been a hot topic in our group for the past few years – in part because our own expertise aligns somewhat with the needs of these fields. Metabolomics is then particularly challenging for the separation science community, demanding the application of high-end iterations of various techniques, including LC, GC, MS, and NMR. In fact, when it comes to metabolomics, most analytical tools have a “seat at the technique table” – after all, multimodality is the only way to make sense of such high sample complexity. 

Multidimensional chromatography holds one of those seats, and often comes up in conversations on how separation power should be best enhanced. Such discussions essentially center on a single question: would it ultimately be better to have analytical separation based exclusively on an ultra-high-resolution mass spectrometer or through a combination of high-resolution techniques with orthogonal dimensions (chromatographic and mass spectrometric)?

There is likely no definitive answer to this question, but we hope our works demonstrate the use of comprehensive two-dimensional GC (GC×GC) coupled with high-resolution MS (HRMS) as one compelling option. By combining these techniques – and thus exploiting several levels of orthogonality – we have been able to improve both the versatility and the robustness of the unknown compound identification process – particularly in the young field of breathomics, which we’ll talk more about later.

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About the Authors

Pierre-Hugues Stefanuto

Lead scientist and Lecturer, Liège University, Belgium


Delphine Zanella

Organic and Biological Analytical Chemistry Laboratory, MOLSYS Research Unit, Liège University, Belgium


Author Jean Focant

Jean-François Focant

Jean-François (Jef) Focant leads the organic and biological analytical chemistry group of the mass spectrometry laboratory at the University of Liège in Belgium, where his research interests include the development of new strategies in separation science and the implementation of emerging strategies for human biomonitoring and food control. “I’ve been active in the field of dioxin analyses for the last 15 years and chaired the international Dioxin 2011 symposium in Brussels,” says Jef. Well known as a dioxin expert, he is also active in characterization of complex mixtures of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for medical and forensic applications. “Working on the hyphenation of state-of-the-art analytical techniques to solve practical analytical issues is what I really enjoy doing,” he says.

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