All the above mass spectrometry techniques are capable of bacterial identification. Acquisition of the mass spectra in each case is very rapid, making all the candidate techniques feasible for rapid data acquisition and analysis. However, for the majority of techniques, the sample preparation from pure culture is complex and time consuming and can often involve the use of costly chemical kits specifically designed for the technique. Furthermore, interpretation of the mass spectral data often requires the specialist knowledge normally residing in research institutions or specialized contract laboratories. Consequently, some techniques are therefore unsuitable for many routine microbiology laboratories. One technique, however, offers a rapid, simple sample preparation and analysis, and because the mass spectrometer is fully automated, provides a strong candidate technique for rapid bacterial identification in the more routine microbiology laboratory. The use of whole bacterial cells for MALDI-TOF MS, in which the spectral fingerprint of an unknown bacterial cell is compared with a database of known library fingerprints, offers the most attractive solution for rapid bacterial identification (Table 7.1). Currently, there is only one system in which the mass spectral acquisition is fully automated and the data acquired searched seamlessly against a fully curated database from validated bacterial strains. This is the Microbelynx bacterial identification system (Waters Corporation, Manchester, UK). The following section therefore focuses upon the MicrobeLynx system with respect to its suitability for rapid routine bacterial identification.
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