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The potential of mass spectral fingerprinting for solving tricky biosecurity issues

Mass spectral fingerprinting (MSF) technology has the potential to quickly provide forensic-level diagnostic information on insects and plants (see scientific review), including beyond what can be achieved with DNA methods.


MSF is a rapid way of measuring the metabolome, the range of metabolites (small molecules, <1,500 Da), present in a sample.  The type and amount of metabolites present in a sample is dictated by genetics, physiology and the environment.


This is a powerful methodology for complex diagnostics, as several different metabolite ‘features’ can be used to characterise the sample rather than just measuring one or two aspects. With no sample preparation required, measurement takes <10 seconds compared to up to three days with traditional mass spectral approaches, making it a usefully responsive technology.


This project will explore the use of two mass spectral fingerprinting instrument types; rapid evaporative ionisation mass spectrometry (REIMS) and direct analysis in real time-mass spectrometry (DART-MS).


The project team from AgResearch, Plant & Food Research, Lincoln University and the University of Canterbury aim to develop the proof of principle that MSF could be used for biosecurity diagnostics in both insect and pathogen systems to test tricky novel questions such as whether there are novel biomarkers for insect pests that might assist incursion response decision-making.


Model systems such as house fly for QFF and green vege bug for the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) will be used to build on earlier work with weevils to explore age, sex and mating status and investigate metabolite phenotypes of informative traits. Model bacterial patho-systems, such as Pseudomonas syringae infection of cherry trees will build on previous findings from Liberibacter-infected tomato plants to investigate disease progression and sampling strategy.


Contact Project Leader Alastair Ross: [email protected]