Matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time of flight (MALDI-TOF) mass spectrometry is a very sophisticated technique with roots in the biotechnology industry. In essence, if a cell culture is volatilized, then ionized, the resulting ions can be accelerated in an electrical field to provide a beam. This beam is then deflected using a magnetic field. The degree of deflection is dependent on the ratio of the mass of each ion to its charge, those with the largest ratio being deflected the least. The beam hits a slit, which literally takes a slice of the ion beam, which is then detected.
It is the pattern of these charged ions that can be used to identify at least to genera level, and in some cases to species. While apparently highly discriminatory, the technique cannot be considered suitable for routine use.
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