Exploring Arctic biodiversity with IMS

Dr.Espen Hansen
Uit The Arctic University of Norway

Earth Day is a time to celebrate our planet’s rich biodiversity and highlight the importance of unique environments. With the majority of currently available drugs derived from naturally occurring compounds, and the continuous quest for new and more effective medicines, the sustainable utilization of biological resources is more important than ever.

Bioprospecting – the systematic search for new sources of chemical compounds from nature – involves investigating some of the least explored environments on Earth in the hopes of discovering organisms that can provide unique bioactive natural products. The Arctic sea is an important example of an environment with great biodiversity, yet its marine life has not been investigated to the same extent as warmer and more accessible seas.

Here at the Marbio Laboratory, UIT – The Artic University of Norway, our natural product research community is helping to explore Arctic biodiversity through the screening, isolation, and identification of bioactive natural products and molecules. Our work combines the separation power of ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) with liquid chromatography (LC) and high-performance mass spectrometry (MS). Read on to find out more about the fascinating field of bioprospecting and how IMS is enabling greater confidence in analysis than ever before.

Bioprospecting and the discovery of the unknown

Arctic marine product discovery begins with the collection of different organisms from the environment, including plants, animals and microorganisms. Extracts for screening are collected by Marbank, Norway’s marine biobank, which provides both academia and industry with access to extractable products and data from its collections. Once transferred to the Marbio lab, the extracts are prepared and screened for bioactive properties, ranging from anti-cancer and anti-infective behavior to potential treatments for diabetes. Extracts demonstrating interesting bioactivity are then analyzed using UPLC and high-resolution ion mobility-mass spectrometry (IMS-MS) to enable comprehensive identification of the bioactive compounds within the extract.

Picture of Dr Espen Hansen taken by Ole Magnus Rapp

Bioprospecting is a challenging endeavor, and the isolation of individual compounds is the most time-consuming step. This is because the samples analyzed often have highly complex matrices containing thousands of different compounds. Further complicating the matter is the fact that bioactive compounds are often present in only trace concentrations. As a result, highly sensitive technologies capable of separating complex samples and acquiring accurate mass data are essential for determining their elemental compositions.

Utilizing the power of IMS-MS

It is vital that time is not wasted on the rediscovery of known compounds. The elimination of these compounds is achieved through a process known as ‘dereplication’. Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) is the most common method of dereplication, with the results used to calculate the elemental composition and identify known molecules from databases such as MarinLit, Dictionary of Natural Products and SciFinder.

Though an efficient approach, LC-MS will only recognize identical compounds within the databases and similar compounds will not be identified. The Marbio lab utilizes the power of IMS-MS to overcome this limitation. Since Fall 2016, our team has employed the Waters Vion IMS QTof to add MS/MS fragmentation information to the dereplication process. The instrument’s high sensitivity and specificity provides clean fragment spectra for all compounds in one analytical run, with the fragment data then used to search MS fragment libraries.

The advantage of analyzing fragment data is that you can discern similarities between fragmentation patterns even in situations where the accurate mass of the target molecule is very different. Since installing the Vion IMS QTof in the Marbio lab, no redundant compounds have been isolated and the researchers have more confidence in the identity of the compounds they choose to investigate further.

Revealing the hidden potential within Arctic microorganisms

Picture of Dr Espen Hansen taken by Ole Magnus Rapp

Recent work by our Marbio group has demonstrated the anti-bacterial effect and cytotoxicity of Lipid 430 isolated from Algibacter species. The two bacterial isolates were collected from the Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean and mass spectrometry-guided dereplication was employed to isolate the same active principle in both extracts. The study was the first to report previously unknown anti-bacterial activity against Streptococcus agalactiae. It also revealed a cytotoxic effect against the A2058 human melanoma cell line at significantly lower concentrations compared to the concentration required for anti-bacterial action.

Bioprospecting research enables us to learn from the natural environment and inform the development of new products, ranging from novel antibiotics to ingredients for cosmetic applications. The Marbio lab works together with European organizations, such as the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Germany, to further develop the most promising of the30-50 compounds that are typically isolated per year.

Celebrating the Earth’s remarkable biological resources

Bioprospecting has been conducted in some form for millennia, and it is through the discovery of bioactive natural products that we have many of the life-changing medicines we use today. It is, therefore, vitally important that unique environments with unexplored biodiversity are protected, and that biological resources are sustainably utilized. Marbio is helping to efficiently screen bioactive compounds for a number of exciting applications. With the advanced separation techniques offered by the latest technology, we can now confidently isolate novel compounds derived from the extraordinary Arctic environment to help develop life-changing treatments.

Recent Publications:

  • Lauritano, C., K. Helland, G. Riccio, J. H. Andersen, A. Ianora, and E. H. Hansen. 2020. ‘Lysophosphatidylcholines and Chlorophyll-Derived Molecules from the Diatom Cylindrotheca closteriumwith Anti-Inflammatory Activity’, Marine Drugs, 18, DOI: 10.3390/md18030166.
  • Michael, P., E Hansen, J. Isaksson, J. H. Andersen, and K. O. Hansen. 2019. ‘Dendrobeaniamine A, a new alkaloid from the Arctic marine bryozoan Dendrobeania murrayana’, Natural Product Research, DOI: 10.1080/14786419.2019.157478.
  • Schneider, Y. K. H., K. O. Hansen, J. Isaksson, S. Ullsten, E. H. Hansen, and J. H. Andersen. 2019. ‘Anti-Bacterial Effect and Cytotoxicity Assessment of Lipid 430 Isolated from Algibactersp’, Molecules, 24: 15, DOI: 10.3390/molecules24213991

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