Fast detection of volatile organic compounds from bacterial cultures by secondary electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry

Jiangjiang Zhu, Heather D. Bean, Yin Ming Kuo, Jane E. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

148 Scopus citations


We propose a novel application of secondary electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry (SESI-MS) as a real-time clinical diagnostic tool for bacterial infection. It is known that volatile organic compounds (VOCs), produced in different combinations and quantities by bacteria as metabolites, generate characteristic odors for certain bacteria. These VOCs comprise a specific metabolic profile that can be used for species or serovar identification, but rapid and sensitive analytical methods are required for broad utility. In this study, the VOC profiles of five bacterial groups from four genera, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium, and Salmonella enterica serovar Pullorum, were characterized by SESI-MS. Thirteen compounds were identified from these bacterial cultures, and the combination of these VOCs creates a unique pattern for each genus. In addition, principal component analysis (PCA) was applied for the purpose of species or serovar discrimination. The first three principal components exhibit a clear separation between the metabolic volatile profiles of these five bacterial groups that is independent of the growth medium. As a first step toward addressing the complexity of clinical application, in vitro tests for mixed cultures were conducted. The results show that individual species or serovars in a mixed culture are identifiable among a biological VOC background, and the ratios of the detected volatiles reflect the proportion of each bacterium in the mixture. Our data confirm the utility of SESI-MS in real-time identification of bacterial species or serovars in vitro, which, in the future, may play a promising clinical role in diagnosing infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4426-4431
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Clinical Microbiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)


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