NEW YORK, May 23 - Sequenom has adapted its MassArray mass spec system to create a new technique for rapid bacterial identification, the first in a planned series of extensions of its core technology, the company said.
Sequenom researchers, working with collaborators at Humboldt University in Berlin, combined PCR amplification, base-specific fragmentation, and MALDI-TOF to identify bacteria by distinguishing variations in the 16S rRNA sequence.
Their method, described in an article in the May 14 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, bypasses the time-consuming process of culturing bacteria and allows the researchers to quickly distinguish more than a dozen closely related bacteria.
Using mass spectrometry for bacterial and viral typing represents a major advance in accuracy and speed, said Sequenom Chief Scientific Officer Charles Cantor.
"It's a tremendous amount of information, and a very quick method," he told GenomeWeb. "It brings to bacterial and viral identification all the precision of mass spectrometry."
Cantor estimated that the process could ultimately be shortened to less than an hour and would be capable of accurately identifying a mix of bacterial or viral strains. These two features would make the technology useful for large-scale clinical or environmental testing, he said.
"In the past, we've used mass spectrometry to interrogate SNPs, but the SNP had to be known in advance," Cantor said. "It wasn't a discovery tool, it was a confirmation tool. Now it's a discovery tool."
Sequenom plans to make a bacterial identification software package for its MassArray technology commercially available early next year. The company is also adapting the system for use in diagnostic sequencing, mutation detection and SNP discovery.