Observing the invisible through imaging mass spectrometry, a window into the metabolic exchange patterns of microbes

J Proteomics. 2012 Aug 30;75(16):5069-5076. doi: 10.1016/j.jprot.2012.05.036. Epub 2012 May 26.


Many microbes can be cultured as single-species communities. Often, these colonies are controlled and maintained via the secretion of metabolites. Such metabolites have been an invaluable resource for the discovery of therapeutics (e.g. penicillin, taxol, rapamycin, epothilone). In this article, written for a special issue on imaging mass spectrometry, we show that MALDI-imaging mass spectrometry can be adapted to observe, in a spatial manner, the metabolic exchange patterns of a diverse array of microbes, including thermophilic and mesophilic fungi, cyanobacteria, marine and terrestrial actinobacteria, and pathogenic bacteria. Dependent on media conditions, on average and based on manual analysis, we observed 11.3 molecules associated with each microbial IMS experiment, which was split nearly 50:50 between secreted and colony-associated molecules. The spatial distributions of these metabolic exchange factors are related to the biological and ecological functions of the organisms. This work establishes that MALDI-based IMS can be used as a general tool to study a diverse array of microbes. Furthermore the article forwards the notion of the IMS platform as a window to discover previously unreported molecules by monitoring the metabolic exchange patterns of organisms when grown on agar substrates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus / chemistry
  • Bacillus / metabolism
  • Bacteria / chemistry
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods
  • Fungi / chemistry
  • Fungi / metabolism*
  • Lysobacter / chemistry
  • Lysobacter / metabolism
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Metabolism / physiology
  • Microbial Interactions / physiology
  • Microbiological Techniques / methods*
  • Models, Biological
  • Observation
  • Pseudomonas / chemistry
  • Pseudomonas / metabolism
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization / methods