Metaproteomics, the study of protein expression in microbial communities, is a versatile tool for environmental microbiology. Achieving sufficiently high metaproteome coverage to obtain a comprehensive picture of the activities and interactions in microbial communities is one of the current challenges in metaproteomics. An essential step to maximize the number of identified proteins is peptide separation via liquid chromatography (LC) prior to mass spectrometry (MS). Thorough optimization and comparison of LC methods for metaproteomics are, however, currently lacking. Here, we present an extensive development and test of different 1D and 2D-LC approaches for metaproteomic peptide separations. We used fully characterized mock community samples to evaluate metaproteomic approaches with very long analytical columns (50 and 75 cm) and long gradients (up to 12 h). We assessed a total of over 20 different 1D and 2D-LC approaches in terms of number of protein groups and unique peptides identified, peptide spectrum matches (PSMs) generated, the ability to detect proteins of low-abundance species, the effect of technical replicate runs on protein identifications and method reproducibility. We show here that, while 1D-LC approaches are faster and easier to set up and lead to more identifications per minute of runtime, 2D-LC approaches allow for a higher overall number of identifications with up to >10,000 protein groups identified. We also compared the 1D and 2D-LC approaches to a standard GeLC workflow, in which proteins are pre-fractionated via gel electrophoresis. This method yielded results comparable to the 2D-LC approaches, however with the drawback of a much increased sample preparation time. Based on our results, we provide recommendations on how to choose the best LC approach for metaproteomics experiments, depending on the study aims.
Keywords: GeLC; Q Exactive; liquid chromatography; method evaluation; microbial ecology; microbiome; microbiota; mock community.