Phytochemicals are small molecules produced by plants’ secondary metabolism. These compounds have a wide diversity of functionalities in the plant, including defence against biological threats. Many of them are known to be reactive molecules in food and they often possess beneficial bioactive properties.
In my work, we study the phytochemicals present in food-related plants and plant-derived food ingredients. To this end, we employ advanced chemical analytical techniques, such as ultra-high performance liquid chromatography coupled to high resolution mass spectrometry (UHPLC-HRMS).
One of our goals is to identify plant defence compounds that may possess antimicrobial activity against food spoilage or pathogenic microorganisms. We study the production, analysis, and modification of these defence compounds as leads for novel antimicrobials.
Among the classes of phytochemicals we study, phenolic compounds are the most well-known. Two important subclasses of phenolic compounds are (iso)flavonoids and stilbenoids, which are produced in many plants, including legumes (e.g. soy bean, peanuts). A modification known as prenylation, which occurs naturally in these plants as part of their defence against biological threats, enhances the bioactivity of (iso)flavonoids and stilbenoids. Therefore, prenylated (iso)flavonoids and stilbenoids are known to be highly bioactive. In particular, they can possess potent antimicrobial properties. This has led to much interest in these compounds from the perspectives of both academic research and industry. We develop methods for analysis of prenylated (iso)flavonoids and stilbenoids and for their production via biological, enzymatic, and chemical approaches.
Moreover, phenolic compounds, especially those possessing catechol-moieties, can participate in oxidative reactions and interactions with metals. Additionally, these molecules can be metabolised by gut microbiota, while at the same time also affecting the gut microbiota composition. In this part of my work, we study the molecular mechanisms underlying structural modifications, interactions, and reactions of phenolic compounds.