New Approach to Analysis of Lipids for Biofuel Research

Cholesterol which is not normally detected from serum using ESI is observed with attomole sensitivity.

The Science

A new technique has been developed that applies mass spectrometry to overcome obstacles to measurement of uncharged lipid molecules, a critical group of products of cellular metabolism in systems being studied for production of biofuels. Researchers at the Berkeley Lab led by Trent Northen have developed a method for converting these charge-neutral molecules to positively charged ions, without losing information about the chemical structure of the molecules. The ions can easily be identified and measured in widely used instruments, such as electrospray ionization mass spectrometers, which cannot directly measure neutral molecules. This development is important for study of neutral lipids (i.e. fatty alcohols, glycerolipids, and sterols), which represent a large and important class of metabolites for biofuel research which often go undetected. This new technique will allow detection of these metabolites with high sensitivity.

Principal Investigator

Trent Northen
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
[email protected]  


Woo, H.-K., E. P. Go, L. Hoang, S. A. Trauger, B. Bowen, G. Siuzdak, and T. R. Northen. 2009. “Phosphonium Labeling for Increasing Metabolomic Coverage of Neutral Lipids using Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry,” Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 23, 1849–55. DOI:10.1002/rcm.4076.