Mass spectrometry provides more accurate picture of cells at work

Mar 14, 2014 by John Bach
Mass spectrometry provides more accurate picture of cells at work
UC Professor and Ohio Eminent Scholar Patrick Limbach stands next to the Waters Synapt G2S High Definition Mass Spectrometer in his lab.

(Phys.org) —Scientists are gaining valuable new insights into the basic processes of cells thanks to research at the University of Cincinnati.

UC Chemistry Professor and Ohio Eminent Scholar Patrick Limbach will present his research—"New Mass Spectrometry Assays for Identifying and Characterizing Modified RNAs"—at the American Chemical Society (ACS) national meeting in Dallas March 16-20.

Limbach's research group—made up of 18 post doctorates, graduate students and undergraduate researchers—seek to better understand the biochemical processes that occur in cells and, more specifically, the synthesis of proteins in the cell by unlocking the secrets within ribonucleic acid or RNA.

"From a health perspective, many diseases can arise or result from the dysfunction of protein synthesis," said Limbach. "So understanding what a healthy cell's process is versus an unhealthy cell is very important."

The bulk of his work, and the subject of his talk at ACS, involves the use of —a technique that identifies compounds based on the elemental composition of the molecules and their charge state—to identify modifications to RNA.

Scientists understand that the role of RNA in the cell is to mediate between deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the ribosomes that make proteins, but they know little about why RNA is modified along the way. And that is where Limbach's team and their novel mass spectrometry methods come in.

"Our primary interest is to develop new technologies that can identify when RNA structures have been modified," said Limbach. "If we can do that, then we can work with others to understand the functional implications of those changes."

Limbach points out that their mass spectrometry instrumentation can identify the more than 115 known types of modifications of RNA, but the ultimate goal will be to determine why those changes occur.

"I expect in the next five to seven years, we'll be able to take RNA from any individual and understand enough to know whether the RNA modification pattern is significant for the health of the individual," he said.

Limbach views his lab's role as that of a catalyst for basic science because of their focus on studying complex mixtures of biological RNAs.

"There are not a lot of people in the world that do RNA mass spectrometry," he said. "I think we are the only group right now that really focuses on this idea of parallel analysis of RNAs, which will enable scientists—who have been interested in the functional importance of RNA modifications but lacked the appropriate technology—an avenue to pursue these fundamental questions."

Explore further: Compound from soil microbe inhibits biofilm formation

Related Stories

Researchers visualize RNA architecture

Feb 04, 2014

Scientists at A*STAR's Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and the US-based Stanford University's School of Medicine have successfully produced one of the first ever genome-wide views of Ribonucleic acid (RNA) shape patterns ...

Silent RNAs express themselves in ALS disease

Dec 02, 2013

RNA molecules, used by cells to make proteins, are generally thought to be "silent" when stowed in cytoplasmic granules. But a protein mutated in some ALS patients forms granules that permit translation of ...

Recommended for you

Compound from soil microbe inhibits biofilm formation

10 hours ago

Researchers have shown that a known antibiotic and antifungal compound produced by a soil microbe can inhibit another species of microbe from forming biofilms—microbial mats that frequently are medically harmful—without ...

Researcher among best in protein modeling contests

13 hours ago

A Purdue University researcher ranks among the best in the world in bioinformatics competitions to predict protein structure, docking and function, making him a triple threat in the world of protein modeling.

Survey of salmonella species in Staten Island Zoo's snakes

15 hours ago

For humans, Salmonella is always bad news. The bacterial pathogen causes paratyphoid fever, gastroenteritis and typhoid. But for snakes, the bacteria aren't always bad news. Certain species of Salmonella are a natural part ...

A long-standing mystery in membrane traffic solved

Mar 27, 2015

In 2013, James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman, and Thomas C. Südhof won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of molecular machineries for vesicle trafficking, a major transport ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.