Background: It has recently been demonstrated that organism identifications can be recovered from mass spectra using various methods including base-specific fragmentation of nucleic acids. Because mass spectrometry is extremely rapid and widely available such techniques offer significant advantages in some applications. A key element in favor of mass spectrometric analysis of RNA fragmentation patterns is that a reference database for analysis of the results can be generated from sequence information. In contrast to hybridization approaches, the genetic affinity of any unknown isolate can in principle be determined within the context of all previously sequenced 16S rRNAs without prior knowledge of what the organism is. In contrast to the original RNase T1 cataloging method, when digestion products are analyzed by mass spectrometry, products with the same base composition cannot be distinguished. Hence, it is possible that organisms that are not closely related (having different underlying sequences) might be falsely identified by mass spectral coincidence. We present a convenient spectral coincidence function for expressing the degree of similarity (or distance) between any two mass-spectra. Trees constructed using this function are consistent with those produced by direct comparison of primary sequences, demonstrating that the inherent degeneracy in mass spectrometric analysis of RNA fragments does not preclude correct organism identification. Results: Neighbor-joining trees for important bacterial pathogens were generated using distances based on mass spectrometric observables and the spectral coincidence function. These trees demonstrate that most pathogens will be readily distinguished using mass spectrometric analyses of RNA digestion products. A more detailed, genus-level analysis of pathogens and near relatives was also performed, and it was found that assignments of genetic affinity were consistent with those obtained by direct sequence comparisons. Finally, typical values of the coincidence between organisms were also examined with regard to phylogenetic level and sequence variability. Conclusion: Cluster analysis based on comparison of mass spectrometric observables using the spectral coincidence function is an extremely useful tool for determining the genetic affinity of an unknown bacterium. Additionally, fragmentation patterns can determine within hours if an unknown isolate is potentially a known pathogen among thousands of possible organisms, and if so, which one.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Structural Biology
- Molecular Biology
- Computer Science Applications
- Applied Mathematics