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ASMS: Riding the Nobel Prize Wave, Vendors to Launch Proteomics Products

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It’s time to celebrate at this year’s meeting of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry, which starts in Montreal on Sunday. Eight months after two mass spectrometrists were announced as winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, their peers finally have an opportunity to honor them. “We put in an extra session to celebrate that,” said Alan Marshall, a professor at Florida State University (see Proteomics Pioneer, p. 7) and vice president for programs of ASMS.

On Monday afternoon, Nobel laureate and Shimadzu staff scientist Koichi Tanaka will give a Nobel Prize celebration lecture, “The Origin and the Future of Macromolecule Ionization by Laser Irradiation.” He will be followed by John Fenn from Virginia Commonwealth University, who shared last year’s prize with Tanaka, and NMR researcher Kurt W thrich. Fenn will deliver a talk on “Electrospray Wings for Molecular Elephants.”

These elephants — otherwise known as proteins — will continue to play a major part at this year’s conference circus, with numerous talks and posters devoted to new ways of studying their behavior. Moreover, instrument vendors are planning to roll out additional products (see further down) for proteomics researchers.

Numbers show that proteomics has still not lost its fervor: Since 1996, the number of meeting abstracts has grown from 1,500 to more than 2,200, and “most of that growth has come from proteomics,” said Marshall. Indeed, an analysis by ProteoMonitor (see chart p.4) shows that the number of abstracts referring to proteomics or the proteome shot up from less than one percent of the total in 1997 to 25 percent both last year and this year. Even accounting for the fact that the use of the word “proteomics” has become somewhat fashionable in recent years, proteins have gained a strong foothold in the field of mass spectrometry: In 1997, only about a third of all abstracts dealt with proteins; this year, more than half do.

Within this field, protein sequencing, posttranslational modifications, and protein biomarkers continue to be of special interest, according to Marshall. “Last year, the posters that had the most requests for reprints were typically ones to do with phosphorylation in signaling pathways,” he said.

The other emerging areas at this year’s meeting, Marshall said, are metabolomics, the study of natural metabolites in the body, and metabonomics, the study of drug metabolites in a living system.

As scientific talks will be complemented by vendor presentations, several companies gave glimpses of their planned product launches for proteomics.

After debuting its Finnigan LTQ FT linear ion trap/Fourier Transform tandem mass spectrometer at Pittcon earlier this year (see PM 03-17-03), Thermo Electron will release the LTQ two-dimensional linear ion trap as a standalone mass spec next week, and will make it available for order immediately.

Thermo is also going to launch a new version of its ProteomeX Workstation, which consists of the LCQ Deca XP ion trap mass spectrometer, an HPLC, and software and will now also feature a nanospray source.

On the sample preparation side, Thermo is launching a PepFinder Kit for high-flow loading, desalting, and concentrating protein samples prior to nanospray LC/MS. The kit, consisting of a pre-connected assembly that contains a flow splitter and a “peptide trap,” is available immediately.

Applied Biosystems is launching a new version of its hybrid triple quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometer, called 4000 Q TRAP LC/MS/MS, that it co-developed with MDS Sciex. According to the company, the new instrument offers improved ion trap sensitivity and “increased triple quadrupole functionality.”

ABI is also upgrading its 4700 MALDI-TOF/TOF to enable users to operate it in a more automated fashion. The new 4700 Proteomics Discovery System will include new software, a trial subscription to the Celera Discovery System database, and ICAT reagents, and will be available for ordering and shipment starting in July. Among other applications, the new software will enable “results-dependent analysis,” where a feedback loop drives the instrument to acquire additional spectra for example MS/MS data based on initial results, such as those from a peptide database search or from the analysis of ICAT peak pairs. In addition, new software will support LC-MALDI applications.

Waters said it will make additions to both its front-end and back-end analysis tools: On the protein separation side, it will launch new 75-µm and 100-µm I.D. chromatography columns, called NanoEase, for the nanoscale separation of proteins and peptides prior to mass spectrometry. On the mass spec side, the company will launch a benchtop electrospray time-of-flight mass spectrometer called LCT Premier. Developed by Micromass, LCT Premier is designed for routine applications in natural product identification, drug metabolism, impurity analysis, compound screening, and intact protein analysis. New technology promises better ion transmission, higher resolution of up to 10,000, and increased dynamic range. Waters said it will market the LCT Premier with its HPLC system, MassLynx software, and columns.

Agilent Technologies is also launching an ESI-TOF mass spectrometer, called LC/MSD TOF, which it will market mainly for synthetic chemistry applications. Agilent claims the instrument, which can be ordered beginning in August, can achieve 3 ppm mass accuracy, low-femtomole sensitivity, and 10,000 resolving power.

The company is also releasing a new version of its 1100 series LC/MSD Trap ion trap mass spectrometer, called LC/MSD Trap XCT. The instrument, which is available immediately, has a new high-capacity ion trap and promises tenfold increased sensitivity as well as improved scan speed and mass resolution. A new orthogonal nanospray ion source that operates at nanoliter/minute flow rates is also available for this and other Agilent ion trap mass spectrometers. According to Agilent, a new peptide scan mode improves the identification of proteins from complex peptide digest mixtures.

Agilent is also going to launch its Spectrum Mill software suite for analyzing MS and MS/MS data, which the company licenses exclusively from Millennium Pharmaceuticals (see PM 10-21-02). The software, called Spectrum Mill MS proteomics workbench, is available immediately.

— JK

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