Mass spectrometer weighs in as proteomics breakthrough

RICHLAND, Wash. - A faster, more thorough mass spectrometry method for identifying proteins may significantly advance the technology infrastructure required to comprehend the role proteins play in cellular function and disease development. Already, the one-of-a-kind system, developed at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is beginning to provide new insights into how microorganisms gobble carbon out of the atmosphere and the role proteins play in a virus known to cause blindness.

PNNL researchers have constructed the first-ever high-throughput, or extremely fast, Fourier-transform ion cyclotron resonance, or FTICR, mass spectrometer. The system will provide an unprecedented ability to thoroughly identify and characterize proteins. Measurements of protein abundance levels at different times are key to understanding on a molecular level cellular function and disease progression, treatment and prevention.

"Our system's advantages are simple yet significant. We can identify a larger number of total proteins and more of the less abundant proteins, and we can do both more quickly than current approaches," said Richard D. Smith, PNNL principal investigator. "These advances mean we can get to the answers behind major scientific questions more efficiently and knowledgeably, such as how a disease progresses, and what can be done about it. The end goal is to gain the insights needed to solve these problems."

Called PROMS for Protein Mass Spectrometer, the instrument is a 9.4 tesla FTICR system manufactured by Massachusetts-based Bruker Daltonics Inc. that PNNL researchers extensively modified with hardware and software tools that enable identification of an extremely wide range of proteins.

The system has an exceptional capability for identifying proteins that exist in small quantities - with sensitivities up to 100 times greater than other methods. While small in quantity, these low-level proteins often play important r

Contact: Staci Maloof
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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