Originally designed for measuring isotope abundances and elemental masses, mass spectrometry is becoming a mainstay across life sciences. As electrospray ionization of biomolecules turns 30 and the Orbitrap mass analyzer 20, we take this opportunity to highlight the role of both inventions in stirring mass spectrometry from physics into biology and discuss the advances and challenges that may impact the future applications of biomolecular mass spectrometry.
Biological Mass Spectrometry
Mass spectrometry was long considered a specialist technology for physicists and chemists, but is now used across biological research. Two major driving forces of this development are Electrospray Ionization and the Orbitrap mass analyzer. On the occasion of their 30th and 20th anniversary in 2019, we assembled this collection of Nature Communications articles. As the advances of mass spectrometry are closely connected to the emergence of proteomics, we updated this collection in 2020 to celebrate 10 years of the Human Proteome Project.
The Opinion section includes an Editorial as well as Commentaries from Matthias Mann and Alexander Makarov, giving personal accounts of the invention and evolution of Electrospray Ionization and Orbitrap, respectively. The sections Protein Mass Spectrometry and Beyond Proteins feature various applications of Electrospray Ionization- and Orbitrap-based mass spectrometry. Recent advances in characterizing the human proteome in health and disease are presented in The Human Proteome section.
John Fenn’s electrospray mass spectrometry (ESMS) was awarded the chemistry Nobel Prize in 2002 and is now the basis of the entire field of MS-based proteomics. Technological progress continues unabated, enabling single cell sensitivity and clinical applications.
The establishment of the Orbitrap analyzer as a major player in mass spectrometry based proteomics is traced back to the first public presentation of this technology 20 years ago; when a proof-of-principle application led the way to further advancements and biological applications.