Multi-capillary Column Ion Mobility Spectrometry of Volatile Metabolites for Phenotyping of Microorganisms

  • Christoph Halbfeld
  • Jörg Ingo Baumbach
  • Lars M. BlankEmail author
  • Birgitta E. Ebert
Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 1671)


Rational strain engineering requires solid testing of phenotypes including productivity and ideally contributes thereby directly to our understanding of the genotype–phenotype relationship. Actually, the test step of the strain engineering cycle becomes the limiting step, as ever advancing tools for generating genetic diversity exist. Here, we briefly define the challenge one faces in quantifying phenotypes and summarize existing analytical techniques that partially overcome this challenge. We argue that the evolution of volatile metabolites can be used as proxy for cellular metabolism. In the simplest case, the product of interest is a volatile (e.g., from bulk alcohols to special fragrances) that is directly quantified over time. But also nonvolatile products (e.g., from bulk long-chain fatty acids to natural products) require major flux rerouting that result potentially in altered volatile production. While alternative techniques for volatile determination exist, rather few can be envisaged for medium to high-throughput analysis required for phenotype testing. Here, we contribute a detailed protocol for an ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) analysis that allows volatile metabolite quantification down to the ppb range. The sensitivity can be exploited for small-scale fermentation monitoring. The insights shared might contribute to a more frequent use of IMS in biotechnology, while the experimental aspects are of general use for researchers interested in volatile monitoring.

Key words

Ion mobility spectrometry Multi-capillary column Online analysis On-site analysis Phenotype screening Volatile metabolites Volatile organic compounds 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christoph Halbfeld
    • 1
  • Jörg Ingo Baumbach
    • 2
  • Lars M. Blank
    • 1
  • Birgitta E. Ebert
    • 1
  1. 1.iAMB—Institute of Applied Microbiology, ABBt—Aachen Biology and BiotechnologyRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  2. 2.Faculty of Applied ChemistryReutlingen UniversityReutlingenGermany

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