The University of Neuchâtel Selects the SYNAPT™ XS to Enable Future Discoveries in Plant Metabolomics

By January 27, 2020


After a comprehensive evaluation process, The University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland recently made the decision to add the newly released SYNAPT XS to their mass spectrometry instrument portfolio.

Dr. Gaétan Glauser, a senior scientist at the Neuchâtel Platform of Analytical Chemistry (NPAC) facility, has core specialisms in plant analytical chemistry and metabolomics. Dr. Glauser and his colleagues found the SYNAPT XS’s versatility and high performance to be a perfect match for the facility’s continued work in their research.

We caught up with Dr. Glauser to find out more about his lab’s current challenges and goals for the future, and how the investment in a high-resolution mass spectrometer will contribute to their success.

Which areas does the NPAC facility focus on for research?

The NPAC facility is a platform to facilitate collaboration with other academic institutes, both from within the University and external groups, so we can provide resources for research that needs our expertise and instruments.

In the Mass Spectrometry and Metabolomics Unit, we develop methods primarily for biological applications, specifically the targeted and untargeted analysis of small molecules present in various biological matrices. We also provide assistance for sample preparation and interpretation of the data.

The work is focused mostly on plant biology. We look also at animal samples and perform some environmental analysis, for instance on pesticides, with our systems.

Which Waters systems are you currently using in the lab to gain your insights?

We have previously invested in several LC-MS systems from Waters and other vendors, now completing 80-90% of our analyses with LC-MS or LC-MS/MS. Our facility houses the following instruments:

Our current high-resolution mass spectrometer, the SYNAPT G2, will soon be replaced by the SYNAPT XS from Waters.

What are your biggest analytical challenges?

The broad-scale coverage and identification of biologically active compounds is a big challenge which we, and other groups, must face when dealing with complex matrices. We are making significant progress with metabolomics but are still far from comprehensive and reliable identification of all metabolites. We anticipate that new techniques related to mass spectrometry and data processing will enable us to approach this goal.

How did you approach novel instrument evaluation and selection?

We were looking to add selectivity and sensitivity to our untargeted MS workflow and determined that ion mobility could be one of the technologies that could provide improvements over these aspects. We obtained a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation and then spent a lot of time carefully testing instruments from different vendors, trying to look at all the features which may be critical for our applications. When discussions first started with Waters, a Vion™ evaluation gave us good evidence that ion mobility was a key element for cleaning mass spectra, but this also showed the instrument had less sensitivity than we needed

After Waters’ introduction of both the SELECT SERIES™ Cyclic IMS and the SYNAPT XS, we arranged to evaluate both of these instruments. First, for the Cyclic IMS we travelled to Manchester to be present for the demo, but soon identified the platform as more complex than we needed for our applications.

Waters proposed that we should evaluate the SYNAPT XS, an IMS-enabled HRMS system with more routine operation than the Cyclic IMS, but with more resolving power, sensitivity and flexibility than the Vion. We thus re-analyzed the sample that we had already investigated on the Vion and the Cyclic IMS using generic parameters. We knew what we were looking for at the time after two demos, so Waters took the same samples, analyzed them again and sent the results to us. Julien Bourquin, a Senior Application Chemist at Waters, then visited our lab on-site and we dissected the data together.

Based on the several demos we performed, I think I had a very good overview of the capacities of the different systems Waters and other vendors proposed and it was clear that the SYNAPT XS was the best option for us.

Why did you decide to partner with Waters?

Apart from the demo results which were key to our decision process, our instrument portfolio already included several Waters instruments, including the SYNAPT G2. This was a benefit for us as it meant we were already familiar with the SYNAPT technology and workflows, so the step to SYNAPT XS shouldn’t be too difficult.

This was definitely a factor for us in choosing the SYNAPT XS as we already know the people from Waters and the instruments very well, and we haven’t been disappointed so far with their performance.

What was it about the SYNAPT XS that made it stand out to you when compared to the other vendors’ instruments you were evaluating?

In terms of metabolomics, we think that the SYNAPT XS was the most versatile instrument and would allow us to do most of the things we wanted to do.

All the instruments we evaluated, including the SYNAPT XS, had some advantages and disadvantages and none was perfect. Some were maybe slightly more sensitive, some were maybe more stable, but the SYNAPT XS really gave the best overall performance for our applications. I think that’s always important to mention because for some other requirements, another system may be better suited.

How do you think the investment in high-resolution mass spectrometry will help to tackle your current challenges and achieve your goals?

The bottleneck of any metabolomic experiment is basically the identification of the interesting markers. In plant metabolomics, this is even complicated by the fact that there are a lot of different species containing many specific metabolites. In fact, we estimate that the entire plant kingdom may contain hundreds of thousands of molecules, the majority still being unknown.

We have chosen the SYNAPT XS to help us get a bit further into this process of identification, and the aim will be to run UHPLC-IMS-HRMS analysis, and to process this data with third-party software to generate molecular networks. This will hopefully help us to better identify the compounds we’re looking for because we often face this issue that we have interesting markers that discriminate different treatments, situations and states of plants, but it’s very difficult to make the step to full identification.

Is there any constructive feedback you would like to share?

What I started to realize is that with new, much more sensitive systems like the SYNAPT XS, you get so sensitive that at some points you have too many ions getting into the detector. This can lead to saturation effects and mass shifts. We also observed this issue on others instruments we evaluated, but not on our good old SYNAPT G2, which is much less sensitive than the most recent instruments.

It seems that there is no way you can totally avoid this issue; you get such big peaks sometimes that you just start to saturate.

However, we can correct this with the Waters software solutions, so we should not suffer too much from this issue. We can also look at directly adapting the concentration of the samples we’re working with to minimize these saturation effects.

Discover the SYNAPT XS

Are you hindered by slow technology advancements, inefficiency and escalating costs in your lab? The SYNAPT XS high resolution mass spectrometer provides ultimate flexibility and greater freedom of analytical choice to support scientific creativity and technical success.

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