Live single-cell mass spectrometry (live MS) provides a mass spectrum that shows thousands of metabolite peaks from a single live plant cell within minutes. By using an optical microscope, a cell is chosen for analysis and a metal-coated nanospray microcapillary tip is used to remove the cell's contents. After adding a microliter of ionization solvent to the opposite end of the tip, the trapped contents are directly fed into the mass spectrometer by applying a high voltage between the tip and the inlet port of the spectrometer to induce nanospray ionization. Proteins are not detected because of insufficient sensitivity. Metabolite peaks are identified by exact mass or tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) analysis, and isomers can be separated by combining live MS with ion-mobility separation. By using this approach, spectra can be acquired in 10 min. In combination with metabolic maps and/or molecular databases, the data can be annotated into metabolic pathways; the data analysis takes 30 min to 4 h, depending on the MS/MS data availability from databases. This method enables the analysis of a number of metabolites from a single cell with rapid sampling at sub-attomolar-level sensitivity.
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