Top-down proteomics for rapid identification of intact microorganisms

Plamen A. Demirev, Andrew B. Feldman, Paul Kowalski, Jeffrey S. Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


We apply MALDI-TOF/TOF mass spectrometry for the rapid and high-confidence identification of intact Bacillus spore species. In this method, fragment ion spectra of whole (undigested) protein biomarkers are obtained without the need for biomarker prefractionation, digestion, separation, and cleanup. Laser-induced dissociation (unimolecular decay) of higher mass (>5 kDa) precursor ions in the first TOF analyzer is followed by reacceleration and subsequent high-resolution mass analysis of the resulting sequence-specific fragments in a reflectron TOF analyzer. In-house-developed software compares an experimental MS/MS spectrum with in silico-generated tandem mass spectra from all protein sequences, contained in a proteome database, with masses within a preset range around the precursor ion mass. A p-value, the probability that the observed matches between experimental and in silico-generated fragments occur by chance, is computed and used to rank the database proteins to identify the most plausible precursor protein. By inference, the source microorganism is then identified on the basis of the identification of individual, unique protein biomarker(s). As an example, intact Bacillus atrophaeus and Bacillus cereus spores, either pure or in mixtures, were unambiguously identified by this method after fragmenting and identifying individual small, acid-soluble spore proteins that are specific for each species. Factors such as experimental mass accuracy and number of detected fragment ions, precursor ion charge state, and sequence-specific fragmentation have been evaluated with the objective of extending the approach to other microorganisms. MALDI-TOF/TOF-MS in a lab setting is an efficient tool for in situ confirmation/verification of initial microorganism identification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7455-7461
Number of pages7
JournalAnalytical chemistry
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 15 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry


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