MALDI-TOF MS profiling has been shown to be a rapid and reliable method to characterize pure cultures of bacteria. Currently, there is keen interest in using this technique to identify bacteria in mixtures. Promising results have been reported with two- or three-isolate model systems using biomarker-based approaches. In this work, we applied MALDI-TOF MS-based methods to a more complex model mixture containing six bacteria. We employed: 1) a biomarker-based approach that has previously been shown to be useful in identification of individual bacteria in pure cultures and simple mixtures and 2) a similarity coefficient-based approach that is routinely and nearly exclusively applied to identification of individual bacteria in pure cultures. Both strategies were developed and evaluated using blind-coded mixtures. With regard to the biomarker-based approach, results showed that most peaks in mixture spectra could be assigned to those found in spectra of each component bacterium; however, peaks shared by two isolates as well as peaks that could not be assigned to any individual component isolate were observed. For two-isolate blind-coded samples, bacteria were correctly identified using both similarity coefficient- and biomarker-based strategies, while for blind-coded samples containing more than two isolates, bacteria were more effectively identified using a biomarker-based strategy.
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