Discrimination of bacteria by rapid sensing their metabolic volatiles using an aspiration-type ion mobility spectrometer (a-IMS) and gas chromatography-mass


The objective of our study was to investigate whether one may quickly and reliably discriminate different microorganism strains by direct monitoring of the headspace atmosphere above their cultures. Headspace samples above a series of in vitro bacterial cultures were directly interrogated using an aspiration type ion mobility spectrometer (a-IMS), which produced distinct profiles (“fingerprints”) of ion currents generated simultaneously by the detectors present inside the ion mobility cell. Data processing and analysis using principal component analysis showed net differences in the responses produced by volatiles emitted by various bacterial strains. Fingerprint assignments were conferred on the basis of product ion mobilities; ions of differing size and mass were deflected in a different degree upon their introduction of a transverse electric field, impacting finally on a series of capacitors (denominated as detectors, or channels) placed in a manner analogous to sensor arrays.

Three microorganism strains were investigated – Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus; all strains possess a relatively low pathogenic character. Samples of air with a 5 cm3 volume from the headspace above the bacterial cultures in agar growth medium were collected using a gas-tight chromatographic syringe and injected inside the closed-loop pneumatic circuit of the breadboard a-IMS instrument model ChemPro-100i (Environics Oy, Finland), at a distance of about 1 cm from the ionization source. The resulting chemical fingerprints were produced within two seconds from the moment of injection. The sampling protocol involved to taking three replicate samples from each of 10 different cultures for a specific strain, during a total period of 72 h after the initial incubation – at 24, 48 and 72 h, respectively. Principal component analysis (PCA) was used to discriminate between the IMS fingerprints. PCA was found to successfully discriminate between bacteria at three levels in the experimental campaign: 1) between blank samples from growth medium and samples from bacterial cultures, 2) between samples from different bacterial strains, and 3) between time evolutions of headspace samples from the same bacterial strain over the 3-day sampling period. Consistent classification between growth medium samples and growth medium inoculated with bacteria was observed in both positive and negative detection/ionization modes.

In parallel, headspace air samples of 1 dm3 were collected from each bacterial culture and loaded onto Tenax™-Carbograph desorption tubes, using a custom built sampling unit based on a portable sampling pump. One sample was taken for each of 10 different cultures of a strain, at 24, 48 and 72 h after the initial incubation. These adsorption tubes were subsequently analyzed using thermal desorption – gas chromatography – mass spectrometry (TD-GC-MS). This second dataset was intended to produce a qualitative analysis of the volatiles present in the headspace above the bacterial cultures.

Analytica Chimica Acta

Ratiu Ileana-Andreeaa, Victor Bocos-Bintintana, Adrian Patrutc, Victor Hugo Moll, Matthew Turner, C.L. Paul Thomas