Matrix-assisted laser-desorption and ionisation time-of-flight mass spectroscopy (MALDI-TOF MS) is a powerful tool for the characterisation and/or identification of protein-containing samples. Several MALDI-TOF MS sample-preparation methods are currently available but few of these are well suited to the analysis of plant material. We have recently developed a simple, rapid, and relatively-cheap method for MALDI-TOF MS that is applicable to plant material (in addition to microbial and insect material), and our aim in this study was to distinguish between closely-related plant species and/or between regional biotypes within an invasive weed species using this method with a view to optimising the selection of biological control agents that can be used for weed management.
We have employed a combination of principal-component analysis and closest-relatedness diagrams derived from MALDI-TOF MS spectral-comparison data to discriminate between the closely-related Impatiens spp. Impatiens noli-tangere, Impatiens parviflora, Impatiens scabrida, Impatiens balsamina, and two regional biotypes of the invasive weed Impatiens glandulifera. We have also developed a method for sample discrimination based upon comparison between blind-test MALDI-TOF MS spectra and reference-sample spectra. Using this latter method, we have been able to discriminate on the basis of the acid-soluble-protein mass spectra generated between four regional biotypes of I. glandulifera that differ in their susceptibility to the biological control agent Himalayan balsam rust (Puccinia komarovii var. glanduliferae) using mature leaf material. Using younger leaves, discrimination was not possible between these four regional biotypes.
MALDI-TOF MS analysis is able to discriminate between closely-related plant species within the genus Impatiens and between regional biotypes of I. glandulifera. Because of this, MALDI-TOF MS holds great promise for improving weed biological control, a management technique which uses highly-specific co-evolved natural enemies for the control of an invasive non-native plant species, through the optimal matching of biological control agents with susceptible target species/regional biotypes.