This book constitutes the proceedings of a joint meeting of the Phytochemical Society of Europe and the British Mass Spectrometry Society in March of 1995. The focus of the book is a nice blend of a little history plus some projections as to future directions, but it is devoted primarily to examples of MS use today. Chapters deal with different classes of compounds, the typical MS analysis used with each, and often includes comparisons of alternative methods with strengths and weaknesses of each.
The role of MS in secondary chemistry is already well appreciated but the chapters dealing with classes of natural products were outstanding and justify its acquisition for college and university libraries. Several of the chapters stand out: #10 dealing with GC-MS and fast atom bombardment (FAB) LC-MS of plant hormones, #12 dealing with FAB-MS of flavonoid glycoside mixtures, #13 dealing with GC-MS of fatty acid derivatives, and #15 with its overview on the use of HPLC-UV-MS as a screening tool for potentially useful compounds in many chemical classes. Several other chapters on natural products chemistry (near the end of the book) were rather disappointing and gave the appearance of being rather hastily prepared from work in progress. To generalize, quality MS work entails compiling a large body of preliminary analyses to learn how the chemical class of interest fragments. Any compound, when properly handled, can generate a distinctive mass spectrum analogous to a fingerprint. The examples in this book show the value of such painstaking effort.
In addition to the natural products work, nearly one-quarter the book was devoted to protein and to a lesser extent DNA, highlighting techniques useful to plant biochemists and physiologists. Chapter #4 compares Matrix-assisted laser desorption (MALDI) and electrospray (ESI) for proteins and interacting cofactors (e.g. determining whether a cofactor is covalently bound). Chapter #6 examines the utility of MS in characterization of protein primary structure, localization of post-translational modifications, and assignment of disulphide bridges. Chapter #5 reviews recent advances in MS using protein examples. Chapter #7 examines the use of MALDI in DNA studies where, at present, it is restricted to relatively small chemically synthesized oligonucleotides.
Two chapters, in particular, seemed to take novel approaches toward applications of MS. Chapter #8 addressed the use of secondary ion mass spec (SIMS) in plant physiology. The authors illustrate uptake and movement of aluminum and calcium ions through the tissues of plant root tips. It was an interesting chapter but apparently no review of SIMS in plant physiology exists and this would have been a logical place for such a review. Chapter #1 I illustrated the use of FAB followed by collisionally induced dissociation (CID) to examine the cyclic nucleotide messengers of plants. The remaining chapters near the front of the book are well written and serve as a general introduction to mass spectrometry, typically with an historical perspective.
This is a significant book; the first "review" of MS that is actually shelved in the biology section (QK as opposed to QC, QD, or QP). I scanned some of these other sources of recent MS information and, in comparison, I found that the chapters in this book were skimpy with broad introductory information that would have given some chapters a stronger contextual basis. For instance, though the lignin chapter is very well written I'm still not sure why there is such a great interest in whether a plant has lignin based on p-coumaryl, coniferyl, or sinapyl units, and with DNA sequencing being so common what are the advantages and disadvantages of the use of MALDI as a sequencing tool? In a cross-disciplinary book such as this, an attempt should be made to provide enough background to allow access to readers from the other discipline.
Some form of glossary would have been useful; the collection of acronyms became quite large rather quickly. Overall, the book is well written and attractive; data figures are excellent and mass spectra are usually superimposed with the pertinent chemical structure. Advanced students and cross-disciplinary researchers at the biology-chemistry interface should find this book rewarding. The complexities of both plant materials and MS techniques practically necessitate collaborative efforts. Most of the techniques discussed in this book are not "plug-n-play" kinds of science; you'll need to find a user-friendly chemist who is open to collaboration. - Timothy C. Morton, Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago