The possibility of detecting organic compounds by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) has been opened up by a team of UK scientists

Until now elemental analysis by ICP-MS has been limited to detecting metals and certain non-metals. Most organic compounds have remained essentially undetectable.

This may now change thanks to new results from Hywel Evans at the University of Plymouth and co-workers at GlaxoSmithKline.

The team has tagged carboxylic acids with phosphorus containing compounds via a derivatisation reaction. Because phosphorus can be detected by ICP-MS the tagged carboxylic acids can also be detected.

Now the team is concentrating their efforts on using a broader range of tags and on improving derivatisation methods, particularly isotopically tagged reagents.

Evans believes that if all organic compounds could be detected by ICP-MS, useful applications like the quantitative analysis of biological molecules could become reality.

Katherine Davies