The name of a new instrument in the U.S. Department of Energy's William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory may be a mouthful, but its function is not nearly as complicated as it sounds. To put it simply, the 9.4 tesla fourier transform ion cyclotron mass spectrometer weighs peptides.
The latest addition to the Laboratory's collection of FTICR mass spectrometers is the most powerful available commercially. It measures the mass of peptides —small structural units obtained by cutting proteins into pieces — with such sensitivity and precision that scientists can detect hundreds of thousands of peptide species in a single analysis.
Identifying peptides is an important part of proteomics research to determine the role that proteins play in cells and living systems. Researchers expect that more than a million peptides are available in the proteins expressed within human cells.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientists at EMSL are collaborating with the manufacturer on modifications that will make the new instrument even more sensitive. It is intended to serve as a prototype for as many as a dozen mass spectrometers that will be put to use at the Laboratory in the next few years for high throughput proteomics research.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.