Though originally employed in academic exercises during the early part of the last century to characterize the masses and determine the stabilities of nuclear isotopes, the practicality of mass spectrometry (MS) was quickly realized.
During the 1940s, the use of MS spread to nuclear isotope enrichment and the analysis of the components of petroleum. As the number of its industrial uses grew, mass spectrometers became commonplace not only in the field of physics, but also geology, chemistry, and physiology.
Beginning in the 1980s and continuing full steam into the 1990s, technological innovations in ionization techniques allowed for multiple biological entities, including formerly intractable high molecular weight molecules, to be analyzed by MS. The diversity of its biological applications has resulted in MS becoming one of the few quintessential analytical research techniques available today in all of biology.
"Mass Spectrometry: Opportunities in the Life Science Market," a report released in April by market research firm BioInformatics (Arlington, VA), finds that protein identification and characterization are the top applications for mass spectrometry.
However, there is a broad second tier of applications, including: peptide sequencing, the identification of post-translation modifications, the characterization of multi-protein complexes, small molecule analysis, the analysis of protein digests, biomarker discovery/validation, and quantitative proteomics.
For the report, 850 scientists were surveyed who currently use, or plan to use, mass spectrometry in their research to investigate experimental design, instrument specifications and future purchasing plans, as well as to assess opportunities for suppliers to expand their reach into markets characterized by key parameters such as application, instrumentation type, sample complexity, and throughput.