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Department of Systems Biology

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Mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) is becoming an increasingly popular analytical technique to investigate microbial systems. However, differences in the ionization efficiencies of distinct MSI methods lead to biases in terms of what types and classes of molecules can be detected. Here, we sought to increase the molecular coverage of microbial colonies by employing metal-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MetA-LDI) MSI, and we compared our results to more commonly utilized matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization MALDI MSI. We found substantial ( approximately 67%) overlap in the molecules detected in our analysis of Bacillus subtilis colony biofilms using both methods, but each ionization technique did lead to the identification of a unique subset of molecular species. MetA-LDI MSI tended to identify more small molecules and neutral lipids, whereas MALDI MSI more readily detected other lipids and surfactin species. Putative annotations were made using METASPACE, Metlin, and the BsubCyc database. These annotations were then confirmed from analyses of replicate bacterial colonies using liquid extraction surface analysis tandem mass spectrometry. Additionally, we analyzed B. subtilis biofilms in a polymer-based emulated soil micromodel using MetA-LDI MSI to better understand bacterial processes and metabolism in a native, soil-like environment. We were able to detect different molecular signatures within the micropore regions of the micromodel. We also show that MetA-LDI MSI can be used to analyze microbial biofilms from electrically insulating material. Overall, this study expands the molecular universe of microbial metabolism that can be visualized by MSI.

IMPORTANCE Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry imaging is becoming an important technique to investigate molecular processes within microbial colonies and microbiomes under different environmental conditions. However, this method is limited in terms of the types and classes of molecules that can be detected. In this study, we utilized metal-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry imaging, which expanded the range of molecules that could be imaged from microbial samples. One advantage of this technique is that the addition of a metal helps facilitate ionization from electrically nonconductive substrates, which allows for the investigation of biofilms grown in polymer-based devices, like soil-emulating micromodels.


Bacillus subtilis, MALDI, MetA-LDI, biofilms, microfluidics, soil microbiome

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Copyright © 2021 Lukowski et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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Lukowski JK, Bhattacharjee A, Yannarell SM, Schwarz K, Shor LM, Shank EA, Anderton CR. Expanding Molecular Coverage in Mass Spectrometry Imaging of Microbial Systems Using Metal-Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization. Microbiol Spectr. 2021 Sep 3;9(1):e0052021. doi: 10.1128/Spectrum.00520-21. Epub 2021 Jul 21. PMID: 34287059; PMCID: PMC8552643. Link to article on publisher's site

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Microbiology spectrum

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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