Jon Atherton

In the final stages of its installation at West Campus, Yale’s new million-dollar mass spectrometry instrument promises to usher in new innovation in the field of proteomics.

The Orbitrap Fusion Lumos, which arrived in December and whose installation will be complete in a few days, helped recruit new School of Medicine professor Yansheng Liu, who began working at Yale a month and a half ago, by supporting his planned research. West Campus researchers are hopeful that the mass spectrometer will eventually assist other Yale researchers in fields ranging from systems biology to microbial sciences and chemical biology.

“This is part of a coordinated effort by the University in building technology centers — what we refer to as cores — that become hubs for research and are leveraged by every part of the University,” West Campus Director of Research Operations and Technology Christopher Incarvito said.

Every organism is composed of many different types of proteins that when studied together are referred to as a proteome. Mass spectrometry instruments such as the Lumos are used to analyze proteomes.

Liu’s research employs mass spectrometry in studying cancer and investigating mutations. By quantifying protein abundance, modification, control and turnover, the instrument will help reveal key events in cancer biology and genetic diseases, Liu said.

Liu’s arrival was prompted by the purchase of the technology three months ago, and the collaborative nature of Yale’s research labs means that investment in one faculty member can and often does elevate the capabilities of entire departments and institutes at the University, according to cellular and molecular physiology professor Jesse Rinehart, who is involved in the leadership to implement the Lumos.

The new instrument, which should be fully operational within a year, will provide unprecedented resolution, scan speed and precision for protein and peptide mass analysis, Liu said.

“The Lumos is notable for its exceptional resolving power and scan speed, which allows it to acquire data from complex samples to a degree that lesser instruments would miss,” said Terence Wu, co-director of the Analytical Core at West Campus. “An analysis of one microgram of protein could result in the identification of over 30,000 unique peptides representing over 5,000 proteins.”

The technique of mass spectrometry works by converting molecules from a biological sample into ions and using electric and magnetic fields to measure the mass of the molecules. A mass spectrometer will generate about a gigabyte of numbers in the form of “peaks,” which represent individual ions from a particular sample, according to Wu.

“Within that mountain of peaks could lie information that would otherwise be unattainable without this powerful tool,” he added.

Rinehart noted that mass spectrometry is not field-specific and said that he is hopeful that a variety of fields in biology will benefit from the technology. For example, Rinehart’s lab utilizes mass spectrometry in designing new tools to test and probe the mechanisms of diseases such as cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

“Every living organism has a proteome, so every field can utilize proteomics technology,” Rinehart said. “We can look at fundamental mechanisms for human disease and, more broadly, answer questions that are important for every type or cell and questions about how life works at the molecular level.”

The significance of the new technology at Yale lies in what faculty and research growth it facilitates, Incarvito said.

Having instrument systems like the mass spectrometer and the Krios cryo-electron microscope also recently installed at West Campus enables Yale researchers to compete in their fields and lead in their disciplines, according to the researchers interviewed.

West Campus celebrated its 10th anniversary last October.

Amy Xiong | amy.xiong@yale.edu