New Technique That Measures Single Molecules Has Been Developed

Precision measurements are helpful in helping researchers understand a disease, infection, and vaccines because biology can be unclear, and medicine requires managing intricate mixtures of molecules.

New technology from Northwestern University now provides some clarity to researchers with precision measurements of proteins up until their atoms. The powerful new method, dubbed ‘individual ion mass spectrometry,’ or I2MS, can calculate the accurate mass of a large range of intact proteins. The technique weighs every molecule individually, which is expected to help the understanding of disease and infection and speed up the creation of cures for lethal viruses.

Learning More About Diseases

The scientists show their approach, which uses the Orbitrap mass analyzer system, being used on incredibly intricate combinations of intact proteins, and even whole virus particles having various cargo within them.

“Quickly characterizing the masses of viruses and their infectious cargo over time may help scientists understand mutations that are occurring,” said Neil L. Kelleher, who led the research, from the Walter and Mary Elizabeth Glass Chair in Life Sciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences’ departments of chemistry and molecular biosciences.

“Whether directly characterizing different strains of viruses or profiling different vaccine formulations, our new technology now can be deployed directly on these protein-containing samples to pursue the most urgent challenges of the day,” he said.

Analyzing the Exterior of a Virus

The new method can help scientists further learn the mixture of the exterior of a virus, also known as the capsid, and the infectious payload held within the capsid. Because the experts can observe a few single virus particles at a time, they can gather information about accurate variations in each particle, Kelleher said.

“Many research groups are studying the use of viral capsids filled with cargo as a means to deliver life-saving drugs to patients,” said Jared O. Kafader, the study’s first author and senior research associate in Northwestern’s Proteomics Center of Excellence. “Our technology provides a practical way to determine if the cargo contains the correct drug or to find out what is actually within each virus particle.”

The research has been published on March 2nd of this year in the journal Nature Methods.

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