Besides food quality control of fish or cephalopods, the novel mass spectrometry (MS) approaches could be effective and beneficial methods for the investigation of biodiversity in ecological research. Our aims were to verify the applicability of MALDI-TOF MS in the rapid identification of closely related species, and to further develop it for sex determination in phenotypically similar fish focusing on the low mass range. For MALDI-TOF MS spectra analysis, ClinProTools software was applied, but our observed classification was also confirmed by Self Organizing Map. For verifying the wide applicability of the method, brains from invertebrate and vertebrate species were used in order to detect the species related markers from two mayflies and eight fish as well as sex-related markers within bleak.
Seven Ephemera larvae and sixty-one fish species related markers were observed and nineteen sex-related markers were identified in bleak. Similar patterns were observed between the individuals within one species. In contrast, there were markedly diverse patterns between the different species and sexes visualized by SOMs. Two different Ephemera species and male or female fish were identified with 100% accuracy. The various fish species were classified into 8 species with a high level of accuracy (96.2%). Based on MS data, dendrogram was generated from different fish species by using ClinProTools software. This MS-based dendrogram shows relatively high correspondence with the phylogenetic relationships of both the studied species and orders.
In summary, MALDI-TOF MS provides a cheap, reliable, sensitive and fast identification tool for researchers in the case of closely related species using mass spectra acquired in a low mass range to define specific molecular profiles. Moreover, we presented evidence for the first time for determination of sex within one fish species by using this method. We conclude that it is a powerful tool that can revolutionize ecological and environmental research.