Liquid chromatography took center stage at last week’s International Symposium on the Separation of Proteins, Peptides, and Polynucleotides in Delray Beach, Fla., where 220 scientists gathered to hear talks on how best to separate their proteins before shooting them into mass specs — and whether to bother separating them at all.
Mark Schure, co-chair of the conference and a chemical engineer at Rohm and Haas in Philadelphia, said that there was general consensus at the meeting that 2D gels were “not going to take you anywhere,” but that using mass spec alone — while an enticing option — was not the best solution to front-end issues either. “Chromatography’s problem is that it slows things down because it is based on diffusion in a liquid solution … whereas mass spec speed is dictated by the diffusion coefficient and velocity in the gas phase, so it’s about seven orders of magnitude faster,” Schure told ProteoMonitor. “But the problem with pure mass spec is you get such a jumble of signals that you can’t tell anything unless you try to analyze every peptide off the protein.” Schure said that a key discussion session, led by Advion Biosciences CEO Jack Henion, Friedrich Lottspeich of the Max-Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany, and Klaus Unger of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, introduced a host of new possible schemes for balancing this problem, mostly involving developing novel front end methods, such as labeling alternatives to ICAT, “that are much more efficient” than any of the current alternatives, Schure said.
Although less than half of the attendees of the meeting were biologists or biochemists, Schure hopes that meetings such as these would help convince more biologists to use new separation techniques like multidimensional liquid chromatography — and help convince analytical chemists of the need to reach out to biologists. “People who do analytical chemistry don’t bring chromatography into the biochemistry community well,” he said. “I think one has to become an ambassador to both communities — to come in and develop partnerships and do joint work.”
Schure will also chair HPLC 2004, to be held June 12 to 18 in Philadelphia.