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Innovations and Key Themes for ASMS 2021

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While many of us are still attending events remotely, ASMS 2021 has been in full swing this year with in-person talks and events. To give you a taste of the topics proving popular this year, Technology Networks has produced a round up to highlight a selection of key themes and innovations.

PFAS – moving the emerging into the routine

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been recognized as emerging contaminants of concern for some time now. Consequently, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a strategic road map for reducing their release into the environment and cleaning up existing areas of contamination. As such, having robust and reliable tools and methods with which to detect PFAS is more important than ever. In response to the changing needs of analytical labs, equipment producers including Agilent and SCIEX have been looking at ways to address analytical challenges, simplifying analyses and workflows as PFAS detection becomes more significant and routine.

Facing the challenges of biomolecule analysis

Biomolecule analysis and the challenges that this class of molecules creates for analysts and equipment manufacturers has been attracting a lot of attention. Their relatively large size coupled with the harsh conditions required for analysis has historically been particularly problematic. The high salt levels and required pH degrade equipment. Unwanted surface interactions can also add to the headache, resulting in analyte loss which produces inconsistent results and skewed data. The use of specially designed surface coatings, such as the ACQUITY PREMIER solutions from Water’s and InfinityLab Bio LC portfolio from Agilent are helping to prevent these issues, reducing sample loss, alleviating the need for laborious passivation and helping to prevent instrument damage.

This is delivering gains across numerous sectors from biopharma development and oligonucleotide analysis, to previously unseen insights on peptides and proteins.

Ion mobility

With biomolecules in mind, ion mobility has proven a hot topic for ASMS 2021 with a number of product launches and highlights in this area. Agilent launched the 6560 Ion Mobility LC-Q-TOF and Bruker highlighted the technique’s peptide quantification capabilities in a recent paper. Ion mobility-based methods offers high-resolution structural insights of biomolecules that cannot be seen with traditional techniques, more complete sample profiling and information on molecular species. Ion mobility-based analyses are benefiting omics, single cell measurements, characterization, confirmation and consistency to name but a few.


With COP26 well underway, sustainability and the need to “be green” is increasingly on people’s minds. However, this isn’t just about quick fixes, but changing the way we as scientists work longer term. Increasing numbers of scientific organizations, from vendors through to the laboratories that they supply, are setting green goals to reduce their emissions and waste. But in order to achieve this, end users need the support of the companies that design, manufacture and supply their equipment and consumables. Vendors have been approaching this challenge in many ways, from reducing the materials needed to manufacture equipment and minimizing the energy and volumes of reagents needed to run them, to initiatives like Agilent’s Green Thumbs Club, planting trees for customers.

Schemes like not-for-profit My Green Lab’s Accountability, Consistency, and Transparency (ACT) label are helping scientists to make more environmentally friendly choices and encouraging companies to be transparent about their products and keep the environment in mind when it comes to design and innovation. This is a philosophy that companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific and Agilent are proud to be a part of. The My Green Lab Certification program, which aims to engage scientists in laboratory sustainability to reduce waste, energy, and water, was also recently selected as a key indicator of progress for the United Nations Climate Change's Race to Zero campaign.

Vendor companies themselves are also striving to improve their own sustainability with Agilent ranked in the top 3 of Barron's 100 most sustainable companies for 3 years in a row now and having committed to net zero emissions by 2050. Thermo Fisher Scientific has also recently been honored as Pitt County 2021 Industry of the Year, which recognizes outstanding businesses on criterias including their environmental sustainability.

Regulated environments and compliance

A significant proportion of laboratory settings will be considered regulated environments, with work and staff adhering to compliance regulations. This is essential across many scientific disciplines, from drug discovery and biopharmaceutical development and production, to diagnostics, food production and chemical manufacturing. It is therefore imperative that equipment and software solutions enable those working in these environments to be compliant and facilitate the traceability, recording and reporting required for this sector. A number of vendors are designing and delivering solutions with just this in mind. Waters has extended the capabilities of its BioAccord LC-MS system with a compliant-ready multi-attribute method (MAM) streamlined workflow and the Thermo Scientific MAM 2.0 workflow is designed to make the transition of assays from development to compliant implementation seamless.

Reproducibility and accessibility

No matter which area of science you work in, reliability and reproducibility are key. If results are not reproducible, they become meaningless, wasting valuable time, resources and samples. There are many potential sources including equipment failure and inappropriate method choice, but an important source is human error. Automated solutions and workflows can help laboratories take the pain out of analyses, reducing workflow time and simplifying user input and thus reducing opportunities for related problems. Bruker has introduced one such solution, the SCiLS autopilot, which simplifies MALDi imaging. This, like many analytical solutions that now come to market, is aimed at making complex analyses accessible to the non-expert user.

It's impossible to cover all of the ingenious innovations, interesting applications and inventive ways scientists and vendors in the mass spectrometry sector are finding to solve important questions and address challenges inside an outside of the lab, but we hope this has whetted your appetite to find out more. Visit the ASMS 2021 website to explore further.