U of G’s Mass Spectrometry Facility Offers Unique Learning Experiences

A professor and a student together in a lab as he shows her samples

By Cate Willis

Chemistry, food science, biomedical and toxicology researchers will benefit from new tools installed in 2021 in the University of Guelph’s mass spectrometry facility.

The new equipment – including a Thermo nLC Exploris 240 for quantitative protomics, a Waters LC Synapt Q-Tof with ion mobolity and a Bruker LC EVOQ Qube triple quadrupole MS for small molecule quantitation – will expand U of G’s research capacity and provide novel learning experiences for the next generation of researchers, says Dr. Dyanne Brewer, facility manager.

The facility is part of the Advanced Analysis Centre (AAC) housed in the Summerlee Science Complex on campus. Mass spectrometry equipment provides researchers on campus with access to cutting-edge analytical chemistry tools for developing and analyzing their experiments.

Mass spectrometry accurately measures the mass of different molecules within a sample. Using the mass, researchers can then perform several different analyses, including identifying the molecules in the sample, detecting impurities, or studying protein content.

This equipment is giving researchers unique hands-on learning opportunities that were previously unavailable, says Brewer. Conducting the analysis in-house is much cheaper, and the students receive training on the equipment and learn to troubleshoot problems as they happen.

“There’s an opportunity for people to use these techniques that they wouldn’t otherwise use, and they get to find out what they can do with mass spec and what it can analyze.”

This new equipment enables researchers to identify chemicals in the compounds and substances they are studying, says Dr. Cezar Khursigara, facility director and a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology within the College of Biological Science.

“If they’re studying bacterial cells, we can figure out the composition of those bacterial cells,” he says. “If you’re studying milk fat globules for metabolism and for health reasons, this equipment helps us understand what types of lipids make up those fat globules and that helps us really understand more detail about the mechanisms that we’re studying.”

These instruments help researchers conduct more in-depth research, says Khursigara.

“Students can walk downstairs and learn how to use the instrument,” he says. “They learn the background of mass spectrometry and understand how their samples were analyzed. Then they can do the analysis.

“It’s just a whole different level of learning and engagement that we have with these instruments.”

He says this equipment also helps make U of G more competitive as a research institution.

“When the University supports these tools, giving us access to people who can help our research programs, that elevates our research,” he says. “I hear from a lot of people that using these tools gets them better papers, more grants, more students and helps build momentum around research programs.”

Along with the equipment, Khursigara says, it’s the facility staff who provide this unique learning and analytical experience to researchers.

“The staff connect the researchers on and off campus and help them develop their projects – help them find the right ways to prepare their samples to train their students,” he says. “So it’s a hands-on learning environment. We have highly trained staff, and their job is to make our research better.”

The Government of Canada's Research Support Fund is an important source of funding for support of research facilities, research resources, management and administration of the University of Guelph's research enterprise, regulatory requirements and intellectual property and knowledge mobilization.