Environmental science & technology

Atmospheric Oxidation of Squalene: Molecular Study Using COBRA Modeling and High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry.

PMID 26492333


Squalene is a major component of skin and plant surface lipids and is known to be present at high concentrations in indoor dust. Its high reactivity toward ozone makes it an important ozone sink and a natural protectant against atmospheric oxidizing agents. While the volatile products of squalene ozonolysis are known, the condensed-phase products have not been characterized. We present an analysis of condensed-phase products resulting from an extensive oxidation of squalene by ozone probed by electrospray ionization (ESI) high-resolution mass spectrometry (HR-MS). A complex distribution of nearly 1300 peaks assignable to molecular formulas is observed in direct infusion positive ion mode ESI mass spectra. The distribution of peaks in the mass spectra suggests that there are extensive cross-coupling reactions between hydroxy-carbonyl products of squalene ozonolysis. To get additional insights into the mechanism, we apply a Computational Brewing Application (COBRA) to simulate the oxidation of squalene in the presence of ozone, and compare predicted results with those observed by the HR-MS experiments. The system predicts over one billion molecular structures between 0 and 1450 Da, which correspond to about 27 000 distinct elemental formulas. Over 83% of the squalene oxidation products inferred from the mass spectrometry data are matched by the simulation. The simulation indicates a prevalence of peroxy groups, with hydroxyl and ether groups being the second-most important O-containing functional groups formed during squalene oxidation. These highly oxidized products of squalene ozonolysis may accumulate on indoor dust and surfaces and contribute to their redox capacity.

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Squalene, ≥98%, liquid
Squalene, analytical standard