CBS Tech: Meet the 5600

April 10, 2015

Say you’ve got a cancerous tissue sample or an interesting bacterial culture. Thousands of proteins constitute every microscopic speck, so how does one begin to tease it all apart? The Center for Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics helps researchers understand what their samples are made of, and their latest acquisition has some staggering tricks up its tubes.

Traditional mass spectrometers measure molecular weights by picking and choosing polypeptides one at a time and then identifying individual molecules against known databases. They can only handle so much, so they usually miss out on a lot of the proteins in a sample. The TripleTOF 5600+ takes it to the next level by marching all of the proteins in a given sample through the machine all at once.  What comes out the other end is a ginormous “swath” of data that requires analysis by advanced bioinformatics.

Under the 5600’s hood, a liquid chromatography process lines up peptide fragments derived from protein samples. Miniscule needles inject these particles into the body of the machine via a super fine electrospray. The machine then fragments them into itsy bitsy pieces as supercharged optics continuously detect all of the individual ions.

Data tracings from the 5600 enable researchers to ask virtually unlimited hypothesis-driven questions of entire subsets of proteins, all in a single go. Curious about emerging fields in proteomics? The following labs ride the cutting edge:

  • The Parker Lab studies protein modifications that enable tumor growth.
  • The Chen Lab develops computational tools to understand disease-related protein modifications.
  • The Wendt Lab investigates protein biomarkers in pulmonary disease.