New Core Facility for Small Molecule Analysis Open for Business
Until last summer, UMD researchers who needed to analyze tiny molecules within human or environmental bio-samples had to take their work off-campus or use older, less sensitive equipment. With the opening of the Exposome Small Molecule Core Facility in the School of Public Health in July, all that has changed.
“Our new core facility is equipped with a state-of-the-art, cutting-edge liquid chromatograph tandem mass spectrometer (LC-MS/MS) that enables researchers to quantify these chemicals at part per trillion levels,” said Amir Sapkota, associate professor in the school’s Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health and director of the new core facility. “It puts us at a whole different level. For instance, researchers across the campus will be able to leverage this facility to make their grant applications more competitive.”
The Core facility was created with financial contributions from UMD’s School of Public Health, Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, Vice President for Research, and the Provost. The equipment was procured from Agilent Technologies, which also provided additional support.
The Exposome Small Molecule Core Facility can analyze chemicals and their metabolites in a variety of natural products, environmental samples and human bio-samples. The identification and quantitation of trace level contaminants in complex matrices, including food, air, water, soil and bio-fluids (blood, urine, saliva, hair etc.) presents a formidable analytical challenge to basic laboratory scientists, exposure scientists and epidemiologists. Acquisition of the new LC-MS/MS enables researchers to quantify these chemicals at part per billion to part per trillion levels with high precision and accuracy.
The facility is already supporting the work of several researchers within the UMD School of Public Health and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. However, the goal is to open the doors to the larger campus community and to the university’s research partners.
“Science becomes expensive, and requires instrumentation that is beyond the reach of individual investigators,” Dr. Angus Murphy, professor and chair of the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, and one of the faculty members responsible for the creation of the Core facility, explained. So it is important to create facilities that are useful across disciplines. “Increasingly funding agencies and faculty expect that you will provide core services: genome sequencing, proteomics, the ability to measure small molecules with big throughput.”
“Having a state of the art core facility for the analysis of small molecules is a major asset to our campus. This collaboration between the School of Public Health and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources provides an essential research resource for faculty in environmental health sciences, agricultural technology, ecotoxicology, food safety, forensics, metabolomics and more. And the VPR and Provost's support was an essential component,” Dr. Jane E. Clark, dean of the School of Public Health, said.
A priority at the Exposome Small Molecule Core Facility will be to provide service at rates that are competitive with other area facilities, and to create an interface online and in the lab that is client-friendly, Murphy said. “We are going to make it more inviting. We have more than enough business [on campus]; we just have to direct it back here” rather than to outside labs.
“I’ve been keeping in contact with P.I.s who would be primary users, and they are now beginning to write new proposals with this facility in mind,” Murphy said.
The Exposome Small Molecule Core Facility will be available to principal investigators (PIs) within and beyond the College Park Campus. “We expect it to be a self-supporting entity that will enhance individual PI’s research capacity while supporting and providing an excellent training opportunity for our graduate students and post-doctoral fellows”
“We are here, and we are open for business,” Sapkota said.