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Biological Sciences Division
Staff Awards & Honors

July 2013

Novel Integration of Mass Spectrometry Techniques Wins R&D 100 Award

Ion mobility spectrometry and ultrafast quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry combined in a single instrument

PNNL research Yehia Ibraham shown in laboratory with instrument
Scientist Yehia Ibrahim is a member of the PNNL team that developed and commercialized the R&D 100 Award-winning Combined Orthogonal Mobility & Mass Evaluation Technology, known as CoMet. Enlarge image

An instrument that quickly and effectively analyzes complex biological and environmental samples was named one of the past year's 100 most significant scientific and technological products or advances. The Combined Orthogonal Mobility & Mass Evaluation Technology (CoMet), developed by a team of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) scientists, won an R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine. The team's award brought the total number of PNNL R&D wins to 90 since the contest began in 1963.

The team, led by Battelle Fellow Dr. Richard D. Smith, developed CoMet to address the need for improved research instruments that separate and identify specific molecules in complex biological and environmental samples. CoMet integrates two complementary analysis techniques—multiplexed ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) and ultrafast quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry—within a single instrument. 

The resulting platform provides specificity, sensitivity, and speed for analyzing complex samples by covering smaller amounts of sample more comprehensively with higher measurement throughput. By integrating the ion mobility and mass spectrometry approaches, the team developed an instrument capable of performing rapid, ultrasensitive analyses of extremely complex materials and of separating, identifying, and characterizing species indistinguishable by mass spectrometry alone. 

The advanced capabilities now available in CoMet are especially relevant to the needs of biomedical research, clinical practice, natural product management, and environmental studies. For example, unlike clinical samples, which contain mostly organic-based biomolecules, environmental samples such as oil or seawater contain a high complexity of organic and inorganic molecules that could greatly complicate mass spectral analysis. As many of these contaminants are recalcitrant to up-front purification, CoMet provides an online mechanism to separate biomolecules of interest from the small-molecule contaminants. 

The instrument employs mass spectrometers from Agilent Technologies (Santa Clara, California). Agilent has since licensed the CoMet and initiated its commercial debut at the June 2013 annual meeting of the American Society of Mass Spectrometry. In November, Smith, along with co-developers Gordon Anderson, Erin Baker, Kevin Crowell, William Danielson III, Yehia Ibrahim, Brian LaMarche, Matthew Monroe, Ronald Moore, Randolph Norheim, Daniel Orton, Alexandre Shvartsburg, Gordon Slysz, and Keqi Tang, will be honored at the annual R&D 100 Awards ceremony in Orlando, Florida.

Funding for this research was provided by the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), the National Institutes of Health, and PNNL Laboratory Directed Research and Development. Work was performed at EMSL, a national scientific user facility sponsored by DOE-BER and located at PNNL.

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