Pioneering mass spectrometry methods developed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory are helping plant biologists get their first glimpses of never-before-seen plant tissue structures.
The new method opens up new realms of study, ones that might have long-ranging implications for biofuels research and crop genetics.
"The data we're seeing are unprecedented," said Basil Nikolau, the Ames Laboratory faculty scientist heading up the project, funded by DOE's Office of Science.
The laboratory's team of researchers has developed a new more highly sensitive mass spectrometry technique to investigate metabolites, the small molecules that are the building blocks for plant biological processes.
Young-Jin Lee, a faculty scientist in Ames Laboratory's Chemical and Biological Sciences Division, has successfully demonstrated the use of matrix-assisted laser deposition/ionization-mass spectrometry, or MALDI-MS, to map the lipids in cottonseed in a recent paper published in The Plant Cell, a premier research publication in plant science.
The research group's technique is also featured in a paper published in a special issue of The Plant Journal, highlighting new developments in high resolution measurements in plant biology. The imaging technique can make maps of the locations of molecules in plant materials with resolution of 10 to 50 microns, less than a quarter the size of a human hair.
MALDI-MS has been in use in the medical and pharmaceutical fields for about the last decade, Lee said.
"In the medical field researchers were using this type of spectrometry to map proteins in human cancers and visualize the distribution of drugs through tissues. But in recent years the scientific community began to look at MALDI-MS as a possibility for mapping metabolites in plant material," said Lee.
Traditional methods in gas chromatography and mass spectrometry told plant biologists the
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