Neither the fear of SARS nor the current economic climate were able to prevent most mass spectrometrists from showing up at this week’s annual meeting of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry in Montreal.
By Tuesday, more than 4,800 participants had registered for five days of scientific lectures, workshops, daily posters, and product presentations. The flow and exchange of ideas stretched well into the evening, and was enhanced by the free flow of drinks at corporate hospitality suites.
Although the number of participants was up from last year, attendance could have been better: Some conference hotels faced up to 20 percent last-minute cancellations, attributed by the meeting organizers to both SARS-related travel fear and to foreign workers in the US hesitating to leave for Canada.
Reflecting the economy’s woes, the conference employment bureau drew more job seekers than employers: About 180 resumes had been submitted by Tuesday, while employers had posted about 120 job openings, and traffic of employers scanning the resumes was low, according to bureau workers.
This year’s conference program, however, reflected an expansion of the mass spectrometry field, running the gamut from metabonomics, to mass spectro- metry in crime and terrorism, to environmental mass spectrometry. A large number of well-attended presentations centered around proteomics and protein-analysis technologies —notably sessions on stable isotope labeling and quantitative proteomics, protein analytics by top-down sequencing, and proteomics in cancer discovery. The devotion of an entire session to FT-ICR instrumentation signified the continued interest in this technology, which was fueled earlier this year when Thermo Electron and Bruker Daltonics both released hybrid instruments.
Predictably, the keynote lectures by last year’s mass spectrometry Nobel Prize winners Koichi Tanaka and John Fenn resulted in standing ovations. Tanaka stressed that he did not invent MALDI, but inspired it, and Fenn mentioned unusual future applications for electrospray ionization — in microsatellite microthrusters used in space, and for electrospinning to create scaffolds for tissue.
Comeback of the High-End Quadrupole
Waters made a comeback this week, launching Quattro Premier, a tandem quadrupole mass spectrometer for LC-MS/MS. The new product comes at the end of a year in which the company lost a patent infringement lawsuit vs. Applied Biosystems/MDS Sciex and was consequently forced it to pull its Quattro Ultima Platinum and Q-TOF Ultima off the US market.
Quattro Premier, which replaces the Quattro Ultima Platinum, uses a new and allegedly non-infringing ion transport mechanism — a traveling wave technology called T-Wave — both in the transfer optics and in the collision cell. Instead of an ion tunnel, T-Wave consists of a series of rings at different voltages. Moreover, the vacuum is managed differently, circumventing another aspect of the disputed patent. The instrument has two- to four-fold increased sensitivity compared to the Quattro Ultima, and is tenfold more sensitive than the Quattro Micro cur- rently sold in the US, according to company representatives. (The Quattro Micro will still be available, since it is a less expensive instrument than Quattro Premier.)
While the Quattro Premier, which is equipped with Waters’ z-spray source, is not designed for proteomics applications, T-Wave technology is soon likely to make its way into Waters’ Q-TOF : “Sometime next year” it will appear in other instruments, according to the company.
Starting this month, Waters will let potential customers test their samples at its facility, instrument beta-testers will come on board in August, and first shipments are planned for September. The list price for the instrument will be in the mid-$300,000 range.
Waters also announced two new co-marketing agreements, one with Advion Biosciences for Advion’s nanoelectrospray chips, the other with Ionalytics, a spinoff from Canada’s National Research Council. Ionalytics plans to market a front-end ion separation technology called FAIMS (high field asymmetric wave-form ion-mobility spectro- metry) that is designed to lower chemical background noise. Using high electric fields, FAIMS separates ions prior to their entry into the mass analyzer based on their mo-bility through a gas. Ionalytics’ product, tested by early access client Caprion Pharmaceuticals, will be launched this fall and sell for about $75,000. It will initially support mass spectrometers from Applied Biosystems/MDS Sciex, Thermo Electron, and Waters.
Linear ion traps, which have an increased ion storage capacity and higher sensitivity than three-dimensional ones, were featured in new instruments from two vendors this year. Thermo Electron launched its Finnigan LTQ linear ion trap, already part of its LTQ-FT hybrid, as a standalone product this week. It contains a two-dimensional ion trap that can trap four times as many ions as its three-dimensional predecessors. Moreover, two detectors —one on either side — double the number of ions that can be detected simultaneously. As a result, the instrument’s sensitivity is increased at least tenfold, company representatives said, so it can pick up less abundant proteins or peptides. The instrument, which has been tested by pharmaceutical companies and other customers, will start shipping late in the third quarter. The LTQ linear ion trap carries a list price of about $300,000, and can later be upgraded to the LTQ-FT. Thermo will continue to provide its three-dimensional ion trap models, LCQ Deca XP Plus and LCQ Advantage.
The other new instrument to debut at the conference with a linear ion trap inside is Applied Biosystems’ new 4000 Q Trap. This hybrid triple quadrupole/linear ion trap, where the trap replaces the third quadrupole, now contains the API 4000 front end. As a result, this instrument is 10-50 times more sensitive in the triple quad scanning mode, and up to ten times more sensitive in MS/MS and MS/MS/ MS mode, than the old Q Trap, the company said. Distinguished from a standalone linear ion trap mainly by its scanning function, the 4000 Q Trap is said to be especially suited to identifying posttranslational modifications: It promises to locate them at 50-100 fold sensitivity greater than the old Q Trap. Fitted for proteomics applications, the 4000 Q Trap will sell at a list price of $445,000 and start shipping this summer. The original Q Trap, listed at $260,000, will still be available.