"Before these advances, in order to analyze plant material, biologists were forced to crush up tissue. We would lose spatial information, where these metabolites were located in different types of plant cells," said Nikolau.
"The traditional methods provided qualitative and quantitative analysis, but it lost all localization of these small molecules," said Lee. "With this technique we can see the distribution of these metabolites in the plant tissue at the single cell level."
In Lee's study of cottonseeds, done in partnership with a team of U.S. and German scientists, the technique showed a distribution of lipids that varies with tissue function. The knowledge could yield useful information about cottonseed, a crop valued as a possible source of biofuel and for its oil in the food industry.
"This information is really so new to scientists that we don't know yet what it means. As a matter of fact, it challenges plant biologists at the moment to take hold of that data and integrate it into the way they do their science," said Nikolau. "This data will change the future of how we do research."
Lee said that though there was still much to learn about developing procedures using MALDI-MS to detect the tiny amounts of material in cells, he expects the use of the technique in plant science to gain wider use.
"Up until this point, this method has not really been recognized by plant scientists. But we were able to bring the technologies of analytical chemistry to the biological science problem of being able to map molecules at the single cell level. There is still a lot to learn about the process, but this technique is going to blossom very rapidly in the next few years."
Nikolau believes the technology will be a key to thoroughly understanding plant biosynthesis, and in turn alternative energy production.
"This is really about the sustai
|Contact: Laura Millsaps|