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Techniques & Tools Mass Spectrometry, Gas Chromatography, COVID-19, Forensics

What’s Happening in Mass Spec?

A sign of life? Saturn’s moon Enceladus is one of the best candidates for life elsewhere in the solar system. Enceladus harbors an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy surface – like Europa and Titan – and jets that shoot water vapor into space. NASA's Cassini flew by and took a sample of the plume ice sprayed out of the subsurface ocean and analyzed it using Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer, which includes a time-of-flight mass spectrometer. Last week, researchers announced that resulting spectra included phosphorus – a key building block for life. “This is a stunning result for astrobiology and a major step forward in the search for life beyond Earth,” said study co-author Christopher Glein in a press release.

What’s your proteome age? The concept of “biological age” has emerged in recent decades – the idea being that age can be predicted from physiological markers and may differ from a person’s chronological age. But which markers? An international team of researchers used a combination of mass spec and small RNA sequencing to quantify proteins and miRNAs, respectively, that changed in abundance with age. They then used the data to develop age-predictive models. They found that proteins yielded the most accurate model, followed by miRNA, and that using both together improved predictions.   “We see our work as an indication that combining different molecular data types could be a general strategy to improve future aging clocks,” wrote the authors

Scent of a woman – or a man. The profile of scent compounds from a person’s hand can be used to predict their sex, according to research from Florida International University, USA. The team used headspace-solid phase microextraction-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (HS-SPME-GC-MS) to analyze the volatile scent compounds present on the palms of 60 individuals – half male and half female. The analysis successfully predicted a person’s sex with a 96.67 percent accuracy rate. The researchers hint at forensic applications, given that trace amounts of evidence can be deposited on everyday objects through touch interactions. 

Ohio’s mass spec Mystery Machine. On February 3, 2023, a train carrying numerous hazardous chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, USA. Following a controlled burn of some of the hazardous cargo, residents reported headaches and respiratory, skin, and eye irritation. To monitor air quality, researchers drove a cargo van around the area for two days in late February. This Mystery Machine contained a proton transfer reaction-mass spectrometer, which revealed that average concentrations of benzene, toluene, xylenes, and vinyl chloride were below minimal risk levels for intermediate and chronic exposures; but levels of acrolein were up to six times higher than the local rural background. Nontargeted analyses identified levels of additional unique compounds above background levels. Jinkies!

The new meta. Microbial proteins with a role in stress response, gene expression, and DNA repair were found to be upregulated in patients with severe COVID-19, according to an international team of researchers from the US and India. The team used mass spec to analyze nasopharyngeal swab samples to investigate the metaproteome – specifically, the proteins expressed by microorganisms. “We believe that clinical metaproteomics can serve as an excellent tool to aid untargeted diagnosis and, thereby, better management of secondary infections,” wrote the authors. “Furthermore, a similar workflow can be utilized for wastewater microbiome surveillance to track community-wide emergence and transmission of infectious agents and their variants.”

Also in the News...

Informed by mass spec data, researchers develop diagnostic tool to visualize protein biomarkers of well-developed sperm to determine if surgical sperm extraction may be successful for certain infertile men. Link

Researchers from Sichuan University, China, use ultraviolet photoionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry to assess exhaled breath of kidney transplant recipients. Link

Southern University of Science and Technology, China, researchers develop fully automated and integrated workflow for high-throughput proteomics sample preparation and drug target identification. Link

New approach for direct peptide identification from DIA data – MSFragger-DIA – leverages fragment ion indexing speed and searches DIA MS/MS spectra prior to feature detection and peak tracing for complete DIA analysis workflow in FragPipe. Link

Julia Laskin and colleagues use nanospray desorption electrospray ionization (nano-DESI) mass spectrometry to image low-abundance eicosanoids, lipid mediators of inflammation, asthma, fever, pain, hypertension, and stroke. Link

Sample pH can drift during native mass spectrometry experiments, according to results from ratiometric fluorescence imaging, depending on several experimental parameters, such as electrospray current, electrolyte concentration, and electrospray polarity. Link 

HeckLab generates proteogenomic insights into histidine-rich glycoprotein (HRG) – a liver produced protein circulating in human serum suggested as biomarker in various processes. Link 

Researchers based in China use nano-scale liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry to identify novel umami peptides from Wuding chicken and explore their taste characteristics using an “electronic tongue.” Link

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute, Processed by Kevin M. Gill

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About the Author
James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.

From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.


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