As part of its research activities and services, CRA-W has been using mass spectrometry for several years for the accurate identification and quantification of chemical compounds found in trace amounts in biological samples (plants, foodstuffs, insects,…) or environmental samples (water, soil, air).
However, the main drawback of conventional techniques is that the molecule under study must be defined in advance. These analytical methods are thus targeted and are specific to what we want to measure. If the compound under investigation is in a different form, for example a metabolite, it then becomes undetectable for the instruments.
The use of high-resolution mass spectrometry, particularly using Q-TOF (Quadrupole Time of Flight) detection, which refers to the time of flight of particles, presents many advantages.
Firstly, this technique makes it possible to determine the mass of the target compound(s) more specifically, which broadens the range of compounds that can be analysed.
Secondly, Q-TOF technology measures most of the constituents present in a sample in a single run, without having to predefine them (non-targeted analysis). Thousands of measurements are obtained, enabling the chemical nature of the sample to be determined. It is then possible to search this data for metabolite(s) in question. If the compound to be measured is metabolised, it can be checked ex post whether its chemical form has changed. This is called metabolomics. The retrospective nature of the analytical data processing makes it possible: i) to investigate different avenues without having to carry out further costly analysis,; ii)to save time, to compare groups of samples in order to identify their similarities and differences.
Identifying resistance markers, identifying compounds responsible for specific biological or organoleptic properties, detecting the presence of undesirable compounds (pollutants or other abiotic compounds), etc., are all possibilities already offered by this advanced analytical technology.
CRA-W researchers face a number of future challenges: to clearly identify all these compounds and understand their exact roles, and to set up databases to collate all this information and also cross-check the data with that of other scientific disciplines, so as to discover even more about the living matter that surrounds us.