At the end of October, a three-day SWEMSA conference on non-targeted analysis took place in the Erding, close to Munich, Germany. On the conference representatives from different non-targeted communities came together to present the last progress made in the field. The focus was very strongly on the data analysis side but also method development and
Before the conference, the organizer Prof. Dr. Thomaz Letzel run a survey among participants regarding non-targeted screening and compared the results to the survey from 3 years ago. As one of the key finding users indicated quality control issues as increasingly important. In my opinion, this indicates reaching a kind of next stage in the development of the non-targeted methods. Though the methods are not perfect a base has been founded and researchers have a vision of the expected results; now we need to start thinking on conveying high-reliability results in an unequivocal manner.
Regarding software tools, a small on side survey among participants was conducted. It concluded that (1) a couple of researchers used only vendors software, (2) 1/3 of the participants used dedicated software e.g. Envimass, (3) 1/3 of the participants used R based command-line software/packages. The rest were combining different tools.
Secondly, Prof. Dr. Emma Schymanski pointed out that a normal analysis in her lab yields ca 100 knowns and thousand unknown features. The relevance of these features is to be determined. At the same time, Dr. Jon Sobus from EPA pointed out that based on ENTACT collaborative trial ca 85-96% of the compounds can be annotated automatically. This leads to a clear question, how to prioritize the unknown features?
It was also discussed how to convey the results to the stakeholders and the general public in the best possible way. Dr. Jon Sobus from EPA: the biggest challenge is how to communicate the results to the public who is used with the targeted way of data presentation. The public does not know what non-targeted is and what could the results mean, they do not understand the levels 1 to 5. One of the solutions, alongside educating the stakeholders, is to develop concentration estimates in non-targeted screening even without standard substances. In this context, I am very happy that our group is working exactly in this direction. You can see some of the latest data we have of quantifying without standard substances from here.