Characterisation of pyrolysis mass spectrometry for use in marine algal systematics
Pyrolysis mass spectrometry (PyMS) is a rapid, automated analytical technique that is used for chemical and biological characterisation of organisms. It has been limited in its use outside the discipline of microbiology and has rarely been applied to the analysis of multi-cellular organisms. This study aimed to investigate the potential of using PyMS as a routine analytical tool to resolve problems in marine algal systematics. The technical constraints of PyMS were also examined. The effect of sample concentration proved to be an important consideration for the production of meaningful results. PyMS analysis of macroalgae from the order Fucales demonstrated that this technique was robust to the influence of environmental variability and challenged the assertion that it is limited to use as a phenotypic technique only. Characterisation of samples was also possible at the sub-species level. Experimentally induced variation among cultures of the diatom Skeletonema costatum, including silicate limitation, low salinity and reduced irradiance, was detectable by PyMS. PyMS is subject to technical limitations including day to day variability among spectral data and does not produce a permanent classification. This study showed that PyMS is a highly discriminatory, sensitive technique that is capable of resolving chemical and biological variability among marine algae.