In a recent review in Clinical Proteomics, Dr. Andrei Drabovich and his team from University of Alberta provide insights on the use of cutting-edge technologies to empower basic and clinical research on COVID-19. Most importantly, they describe how these methodologies can be used to detect existing and novel viral variants.

Mass spectrometry is a technique used by scientists to identify all proteins in a given sample, their sequences, and their relative abundance (or their quantity). In this manuscript, the authors review current literature on how mass spectrometry can be used as an analytical technique to identify and measure the quantities of SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins.

Traditional techniques like viral amplification and genome sequencing are powerful tools to rapidly identify emerging mutations or changes in the virus genetic core material. These mutations could result in an altered version of the original proteins. Mass spectrometry can add to this by providing evidence of how much of any given protein is made, if the protein is being modified after it is made, and information on which targets this protein interacts with. All together this can help assemble the final picture of the functional impact of these new mutations or protein variants, key in our ability to monitor emerging variants of concern.

These types of assays could also be used to differentiate between responses to infections with SARS-CoV-2 and those of closely related seasonal coronaviruses, like the ones associated with the common cold, thus enabling reliable testing of broader populations for infection-acquired immunity or vaccine-induced immunity. Furthermore, when mass spectrometry is combined with other assays, it can help detect very low quantities of proteins, which can nevertheless still have an impact on the disease outcome.

Overall, this review provides a summary defining the advantages of mass spectrometry as an alternative to traditional immunoassays for studying the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infections.


Rais Y, Fu Z, Drabovich AP. Mass spectrometry-based proteomics in basic and translational research of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and its emerging mutants. Clin Proteomics. 2021. 18:19. Doi: 10.1186/s12014-021-09325-x