Waters Corp. is targeting food safety and other applications with its new system that bypasses traditional timely sample preparation using a hollow blade similar to a surgeon’s scalpel coupled with software and a mass spectrometer.
Called the Rapid Evaporative Ionization Mass Spectrometry (REIMS) Research System with iKnife Sampling, it can help researchers quickly differentiate samples and identify their features, according to the company, giving them more insight into the chemical and biological systems they are studying.
Its biggest differentiator from traditional liquid chromatography mass spectrometer (LCMS) and molecular techniques like polymerase chain reaction is that is works without requiring sample preparation. The iKnife cuts a heated sample, forming a vapor rich in chemical information. The iKnife is about 1 millimeter thick and 2 centimeters long. The vapor moves through it and an attached 3 meter long tube to a transfer capillary, where molecules are ionized at a heated impactor surface and potential contaminants are removed. The ions are analyzed by time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TOF MS) to get a molecular profile.
“LCMS depends on taking a sample. If you take a sample from a fish, for example, you must homogenize it, centrifuge it and filter it. It’s quite a manually intensive process, and a lab technician has to be sitting with it for some hours,” says Mike Wilson, PhD, who is product manager of benchtop TOF MS at Waters’ office in Manchester, U.K.
Waters acquired the REIMS technology from MediMass Ltd., of Budapest, Hungary, in July 2014. The company was in a three-year collaboration with MediMass and Imperial College London focused on advancing the technology.
Dr. Wilson says the system will be available as both a kit listing for about $40,000 that can be added to installed Waters Xevo and SYNAPT mass spectrometers. The company also will sell systems including the iKnife and a box generator, an ion source mass spectrometer and Progenesis QI software starting at around $490,000. The total system cost depends on the technology in the package.
Dr. Wilson says the product could be used both to glean information about a species of meat or fish and potentially to detect food adulteration. He points to a 2013 scandal in the U.K. when horsemeat was found to be mixed in with beef. The REIMS with iKnife technology could be used to test first pure beef and pure horsemeat, and then to understand the mixed sample quickly.
The company claims the analytical tool may help the food safety industry come closer to a real-time result.
Dr. Wilson expects initial customers to be researchers in universities and institutions focused on food analysis.