Introduction

Mass spectrometry – a century-old technique that ionises a sample to measure the combined masses of its atoms – has established itself as a tool to test food and environmental contamination, perform carbon dating, confirm drug abuse and tackle a host of other tasks.

Biological applications of mass spectrometry in particular have grown exponentially since the discovery of ‘soft’ ionisation techniques over 20 years ago, which has since allowed researchers to analyse much bigger molecules than was ever possible before. Combined with huge leaps in computational power, today the detailed interrogation of viruses, antibodies or proteins from cells in human and other animals in mass spectrometers is routine.

With the ability to identify, characterise and quantify proteins and other molecules present in a particular network, pathway, organelle, subcellular complex, cell or tissue – and even measure post-translational modifications – state-of-the-art mass spectrometric methods have become an essential part of any researcher’s repertoire who is interested in understanding the nature and interactions of molecules in an organism.

Seeding a functional proteomics revolution

Yet despite significant progress, the ultimate goal of being able to monitor and analyse what is happening at the molecular level in every type of cell at every time – called functional proteomics – remains elusive. This is because functional proteomics is orders of magnitude more difficult than DNA sequencing, and today’s mass spectrometers fall far short of what is needed in terms of sensitivity, dynamic range and speed.

The ‘Biological Mass Spectrometry’ theme aims to seed a functional proteomics revolution by bringing together the UK’s world-leading technology companies and strong but currently disparate academic expertise in mass spectrometry.

The first step of this work will be to standardise and share methodologies across The Rosalind Franklin Institute’s Spoke universities, as well as partner institutions and companies. Then, the focus will shift to employing expertise – in various biological areas, such as cell biology, computational biology, medicine and biotechnology, as well as engineering, chemistry and various analytical scientists – to develop and apply new instrumentation with improved sensitivity and more flexibility to aid elucidation of the hidden structures of molecules.

In this, complementary capabilities within the ‘Structural biology’ theme will be employed to offer insight into molecular structure, and because mass spectrometry can be used as a form of imaging collaboration with ‘Correlated imaging’, ‘Next-generation chemistry for medicine’ and ‘Imaging with sound and light’ themes will allow the new technologies developed within this theme to be integrated with other ground breaking innovations to form more efficient and effective imaging workflows.

The improved understanding of proteins from the next-generation mass spectrometers and associated methods developed within this theme will unlock important biology, leading to new diagnostic biomarkers of disease and new opportunities for drug discovery.

Professor Perdita Barran

Co-Theme Leader, Biological Mass Spectrometry

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Theme Leader

Professor Perdita Barran

Co-Theme Leader, Biological Mass Spectrometry

Professor Perdita Barran is Chair of Mass Spectrometry in the School of Chemistry and Director of the Michael Barber Centre for Collaborative Mass Spectrometry. She graduated from Manchester University with a degree in Chemistry with Industrial Experience (1994), and from […]

Professor Kathryn Lilley

Co-Theme Leader, Biological Mass Spectrometry

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Theme Leader

Professor Kathryn Lilley

Co-Theme Leader, Biological Mass Spectrometry

Professor Kathryn Lilley received her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Sheffield in 1990. She continued her scientific career as a laboratory manager for 11 years at the University of Leicester where she ran the Protein and Nucleic Acid […]