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Evaluation of the Orbitrap Mass Spectrometer for the Molecular Fingerprinting Analysis of Natural Dissolved Organic Matter

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posted on 12.07.2016, 00:00 by Jeffrey A. Hawkes, Thorsten Dittmar, Claudia Patriarca, Lars Tranvik, Jonas Bergquist
We investigated the application of the LTQ-Orbitrap mass spectrometer (LTQ-Velos Pro, Thermo Fisher) for resolving complex mixtures of natural aquatic dissolved organic matter (DOM) and compared this technique to the more established state-of-the-art technique, Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FTICR-MS, Bruker Daltonics), in terms of the distribution of molecular masses detected and the reproducibility of the results collected. The Orbitrap was capable of excellent reproducibility: Bray–Curtis dissimilarity between duplicate measurements was 2.85 ± 0.42% (mean ± standard deviation). The Orbitrap was also capable of the detection of most major ionizable organic molecules in typical aquatic mixtures, with the exception of most sulfur and phosphorus containing masses. This result signifies that the Orbitrap is an appropriate technique for the investigation of very subtle biogeochemical processing of bulk DOM. The lower costs (purchase and maintenance) and wider availability of Orbitrap mass spectrometers in university departments means that the tools necessary for research into DOM processing at the molecular level should be accessible to a much wider group of scientists than before. The main disadvantage of the technique is that substantially fewer molecular formulas can be resolved from a complex mixture (roughly one third as many), meaning some loss of information. In balance, most biogeochemical studies that aim at molecularly fingerprinting the source of natural DOM could be satisfactorily carried out with Orbitrap mass spectrometry. For more targeted metabolomic studies where individual compounds are traced through natural systems, FTICR-MS remains advantageous.