MALDI-TOF MS for species identification in drinking water microbiology

The identification of bacteria using MALDI-TOF-MS is a cutting-edge and highly innovative method, which has already revolutionised bacteria identification in medical diagnostics. This technique also looks promising for the drinking water sector. The speed of the methodology can be critical when health officials need to make a decision on potentially issuing a boil water notice.

In the past few years an innovative method has been developed to quickly identify microorganisms – MALDI-TOF-MS. The method is now established in the clinical field and has considerable potential for the drinking water sector. The great benefit is the speed of the method. If bacterial isolates are present, it only takes a short time (hours) to identify multiple isolates. In the event that indicator bacteria are detected, the rapid species identification can supply important information on the contamination source on the same day as the findings. Consequently, boil water notices and a negative external image can be avoided and consumer faith in drinking water quality can be increased. Robust implementation of this methodology will therefore generate significant added value for the drinking water industry.

The following questions shall be answered:

  • Is it possible to conclusively identify hygienically relevant microorganisms (E. coli, coliform bacteria, enterococci) from environmental samples using MALDI-TOF-MS?
  • Can pathogens that are relevant to drinking water (e.g. Campylobacter spp., Pseudomonas aeruginosa) be identified using MALDI-TOF-MS?
  • What impact do the cultivation conditions (growth phase, medium etc.) have on the identification results?
  • Can identification using MALDI-TOF-MS save time in the cultural detection of certain microorganisms and therefore validate findings more quickly?

The aim of the research project is to assess the methodology and provide recommendations for practice. In future, this can reduce the time and workload when detecting bacteria that are relevant for drinking water.


Hügler M.Schnelle Identifizierung von Bakterien mit der MALDI-TOF-Massenspektrometrie. In: Zukunftsthemen der Wasserversorgung, 25. TZW-Kolloquium, Veröffentlichungen aus dem Technologiezentrum Wasser, ISSN 1434-5765, TZW-Band 95: 117–141 (2020)

Hügler M., Reitter C., Hambsch B., Tiehm A.Schnelle Identifizierung von Bakterien. Wasserforum, Sonderpublikation zum 13. Langenauer Wasserforum, 11/2019: 38–40 (2019)

Hügler M., Stange C., Ho J., Tiehm A.Molekularbiologische Methoden – Trends und Entwicklungen.  In: Entwicklungstrends für die Wasserversorgung, 22. TZW-Kolloquium, Veröffentlichungen aus dem Technologiezentrum Wasser, ISSN 1434-5765, TZW-Band 80: 45-63 (2017)

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