In the food industry, there is much interest in knowing out of which molecules our food is composed. This is because the molecules in various products characterize our food in various ways. For instance, it is important to know whether food contains molecules potentially causing an allergic reaction or a disease. Already during the breeding process, researchers try to switch the production of molecules on or off.
Research on the composition of products is a time-consuming business at this point, and in a world where time equals money, every gain of time is most welcome. Justin van der Hooft MSc is working on this for his graduate research. He examines existing methods for identifying molecules and tries to speed up and improve these methods.
For his research Justin chose to focus on flavonoids. These are compounds abundant in fruit and vegetables. These molecules are important for coloration and aroma. Justin’s research predominantly aims on the techniques and methods for determining the presence and type of this compounds in plants, through which the techniques also will become applicable for other molecules with different traits.
Many types of flavonoids exist. They strongly resemble one another, yet all are slightly different. To find out which particular flavonoids are present in a plant, Justin uses, among others, mass spectronomy. With this method, one can see which distinctive atoms are part of the molecule. However, with the distinct atoms alone, one doesn’t necessarily know how they are connected. For this one also needs a spatial composition. To unmask the complete structure, Justin used MRI. This technique, also widely applied in medicine, makes use of the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei.
By combining mass spectronomy and MRI, the distinctive molecules of a product can be mapped. This is a very time-consuming job. In the end, a programma should become available in which the different results of mass spectronomy and NMR can be loaded, after which the present molecules can be found directly via a database.