In this series, Dr. Kalumbu Malekani, Chief Scientific Officer, Environmental Risk Sciences, explores trends and salient topics in environmental and regulatory science. In February, he spoke with experts Jim Ferguson, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, and Rory Mumford, Technical Expert, Environmental Fate and Metabolism, about their upcoming symposium, co-chaired with USDA representative, Yelena Sapozhnikova, Ph.D., at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall Meeting in San Francisco, and the impact their work has made on the field of environmental science.
Kalumbu Malekani (KM): Jim and Rory, thank you for your time. Please tell us about the symposium you are co-chairing at the ACS Fall meeting.
Rory Mumford (RM):
The symposium, titled “Uses of HPLC-Mass Spectrometry in Support of Agricultural Research and Development - Trends and Best Practices,” is part of the ACS Division of Agrochemicals program, and focuses on new uses for accurate mass, high resolution and low resolution LC-mass spectrometry in support of regulatory submissions and R&D in the agricultural chemical field. The Call for Abstracts is open until Tuesday, April 4.
The session focuses on improvements that have been made in mass spectrometry over recent years and how to apply them in the field of agricultural chemical development. But many of the older techniques such as triple quadrupole mass spectrometry are still relevant and regarded as the best practice when it comes to residue analysis. We’re trying to encourage a range of speakers from the agrochemical industry, contract research, regulatory bodies, instrument vendors, and academia to present their ideas and views on the use of mass spectrometry in their respective sectors. This allows the whole community to benefit from seeing how the data are generated and used, and what the views are from different sectors. We hope it will also give insight into what the future may hold for mass spectrometry.
KM: Describe your fields of expertise.
Jim Ferguson (JF):
After gaining my B.S. in chemistry and M.S. in analytical chemistry, I tested feed and fertilizer, then returned to university for my Ph.D. under the guidance of Dr. Rick Yost, who built the first triple quadrupole mass spectrometer. Rick made sure we understood the operation of the instrument inside out (fortunately we didn’t need to machine parts or build circuits on breadboards like he did). After grad school, I worked at mass spec vendors and gained expertise in a range of LC-MS/MS applications, including quantification, metabolomics, lipidomics, proteomics, and metabolite identification. I trained clients on the operation and collaborated with them on their research, gaining insight into both the mass spec and sample preparation. The wide range of types of analyses was challenging, and the collaborations were rewarding.
I graduated from university with a degree in chemistry and medicinal sciences and started working at a contract research organization (CRO) in the metabolism team. This gave me a good understanding of extraction and profiling techniques. I had the opportunity to work on mass spectrometry for metabolite identification and that turned out to be a real talent that I have. It was something that captured my attention, and I could really get my teeth into it. The work was so varied and covered pharma, veterinary medicines, and agrochemicals. I saw a wealth of data covering mammalian metabolism, crop metabolism, and environmental fate. This has been the basis of my career for the last 20 plus years, including nine years at Smithers. In 2019, I led the addition of our in vitro
metabolism service, which primarily looks at human comparative metabolism. We expanded the field to look at other areas of interest for crop protection product development, including plant cell lines, excised leaves, and in vitro
metabolism studies in farm animals.
KM: What impacts are you and your colleagues making on your field?
Every day we help our clients bring their products to market on time. We are currently involved in many projects, including a global effort to understand the degradation of plant protection products, pharmaceuticals, biocides, and industrial chemicals. Because of our expertise in the environmental arena, we are now looking at chemicals leaching from tire road wear particles, such as 6PPD
. This has become a massive area of focus in recent years, and it’s interesting to be involved in cutting-edge research. We wouldn’t be able to do this without our continued investment in analytical equipment and techniques, such as 2D chromatography and accurate mass spectrometry. It’s important to me to keep in touch with industry and instrument manufacturers so that we can make sure we’re using the most appropriate techniques available.
The main thing we do is help our clients generate accurate data on time, so they are able to get their products to market. We participate in projects such as ring tests that are used to help develop regulations. I have provided feedback to mass spectrometry vendors on ways to improve hardware and software; having instruments that are easier to use, and better software to process the data, can make it more functional and reliable for non-expert users.
KM: What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges in the next 5 years?
An increasingly important opportunity is the use of New Approach Methodologies (NAMs). This means diverging from traditional testing in some cases, or running in parallel, while the methods are established and become acceptable to regulatory authorities. We’ve already seen this happen in recent years with the addition of the OECD 319 and OECD 249 guidelines for fish bioaccumulation modeling and as an alternative to acute fish toxicity testing, respectively. We are in a unique position that we can be actively involved in the development and refinement of such testing.
A challenge for all CROs will be remaining current with industry as clients change their models and compound design processes. Smithers continues to adapt to be sure we are using the most relevant techniques to meet data needs. For example, the switch from small molecules to biologicals for pest control often requires a different type of analysis, or tweaks in the way that instrumentation is used. And we’re already working on expanding our service lines to adapt to changes in the regulatory environment to make sure data are relevant, accurate, and accommodates animal testing alternatives.
KM: What advice do you have for clients?
My advice would be to trust our experts. The scientists at Smithers who perform your metabolism studies have many years of experience doing this work. We want the studies we’re working on to provide the data you need. We enjoy interacting with you and answering your questions. We will keep you updated on projects in the way that best suits your needs - by email, phone call, or video conference. We will reach out to you if we find something unusual; we’ll let you know what we’ve found and rely on your expertise with your test materials. We often collaborate internally to discuss our work and share knowledge between our labs in Wareham, Massachusetts, USA and Harrogate, UK.
KM: Why did you choose Smithers?
Smithers offered the opportunity to develop my own teams and have a more direct influence on the growth of the company. There’s always something new to challenge me, and my colleagues are great.
I worked with Smithers from the vendor’s side on the purchase of the Triple TOF 5600 LC-MS system that I now use to generate the data I use in my job. Doing work that affects agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and the environment sounded both interesting and important, so here I am.
KM: Tell us what got you interested in science?
As a child, I enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked (much to my mother’s annoyance!). I grew up on farms and got to see a lot of the animal husbandry as well as the heavy machinery involved. Both areas intrigued me as I have always had an interest in the natural world and technology. I was influenced by my grandfather who was an electrician. He encouraged me to ask questions and find out how things worked. That has progressed into my career – now, I like to see what molecules turn into when you expose them to various conditions.
I always had questions for my parents and grandparents about how things worked. We had a large garden, and I wanted to know why you had to fertilize some crops one way and others were treated differently, or why some were planted in deep holes and some were barely covered. My relatives owned farms, so I had exposure to agriculture. My dad worked with concrete, and I was interested in how sloppy mush that came out of a cement truck turned into something hard and durable. I think my curiosity and constant questions may be the reason I received a chemistry set for Christmas one year. In high school, my favorite class was chemistry, with math coming a close second – and music not far behind.
KM: Thank you both for your insights and for sharing your personal career journeys with us.
Contact us to speak with our experts or meet with our team at the ACS meeting. We invite you to submit your abstracts for the Mass Spectrometry Symposium (deadline: Tuesday, April 4, 2023). See the full description of the symposium and view suggested topics, or reach out to Rory or Jim to discuss your ideas.