Developing disease resistance for new crops, accelerating analytical services during grain harvest and transport and identifying new alleles, or genes, for grain quality are some of the benefits for agriculture of the first prOTOF 2000 mass spectrometer in WA.
The only one in Australia and one of only 30 in the world, this new mass spectrometer has just been installed at the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre (SABC) at Murdoch University.
It can be used to identify and map biomarkers in biology, from humans to plants and from disease analysis to pest identification, and its applications will provide major benefits in agricultural and biomedical research.
SABC Director, Professor Mike Jones, described the prOTOF 2000 as a fast and accurate single stage MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer.
“This equipment has many applications in biotechnology, including high end protein analysis, biomarker discovery, molecular diagnostics, biosecurity and commercial testing,” he said.
“Its unique design allows it to accommodate different types of samples and identify their molecular sizes with remarkable accuracy.
“Previously cell and tissue imaging was not possible, but now we can analyse tissues as well as extracts, which we will use, for example, to develop new forms of resistance by looking at host-pathogen interactions at a cellular level.
“We can examine how nematodes feed from host roots and change their metabolism and this approach can also be used to study viral and fungal infections,” Professor Jones said.
Saturn Biotech Managing Director, Adjunct Associate Professor, Chris Florides said his company would use the new technology to assist cereal breeders in their endeavours to breed more profitable varieties for crops, such as wheat and barley.
“This instrument will also speed up service delivery for variety purity testing of grains because it is 100 times faster than previous models,” he said.
“In two days, for example, using the prOTOF 2000, we developed a method to distinguish two wheat varieties that previously appeared to have identical protein profiles. Crop variety identification and purity testing provides quality assurance across the supply chain so that growers will know the exact variety and purity of the seed they purchase and plant,” Professor Florides said.
Proteomics International Managing Director, Dr Richard Lipscombe, will use the Australian Research Council supported technology for further protein analysis and biomarker discovery.
“Researchers at the University of Texas, Houston, identified potential biomarkers for the presence of breast cancer in human saliva using the prOTOF 2000, so the opportunities are considerable,” he said.
“Our previous research mapped fish biomarkers to ensure what consumers ate was not a cheap substitute, but this technology takes us to the next step of identifying biomarkers for health problems, such as diabetes and obesity,” Dr Lipscombe said.
Murdoch University Division of R&D, the Department of Agriculture and Food WA, Saturn Biotech and Curtin University of Technology matched funds from the Australian Research Council to raise $500,000 for the equipment, which complements existing SABC technologies.
Professor Jones also encouraged the WA government to support more infrastructure for biotechnology in the State.
“It is this type of new technology that keeps the SABC and Australia at the forefront of research in agricultural biotechnology,” he said.
“Having state of the art equipment, allows WA to be globally competitive.
This is especially important when it comes to GM crops, which will have to be grown worldwide to meet the rapidly increasing world demand for food, fibre and biofuels.”
‘The prOTOF 2000 will play a significant role in WA to help facilitate such developments,” Professor Jones said.