Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Natural product chemistry and environmental chemistry

Natural product chemicals, xenobiotics and primary metabolites are small molecules with great significance in agroecology. 

Natural product chemicals - secondary metabolites - are produced by living organisms and have biological or pharmacological activity. Such activity can be suppressive effects on weeds, insects and/or diseases or health-protecting effects in humans. The presence of these compounds in agricultural crops can be exploited in self-defence for crops and in health-protecting food products. 

Xenobiotics (chemical compounds that are foreign to living organisms) in agriculture include applied pesticides as well as contaminants that end up in agricultural soils through processes such as application of sludge and manure. Environmental chemistry deals with the fate, effects and reactions of xenobiotics. 

Primary metabolites are part of the metabolism and are necessary for life and growth. Changes in the complete pattern of the metabolites – the metabolome – illustrate the effect when an organism is exposed to biologically active natural chemicals or by xenobiotics. 

Facilities

Natural products, xenobiotics and primary metabolites are small molecules. There is thus a significant overlap between the instruments and expertise used in research of the three groups of compounds. Our team is well equipped with all the necessary instrumentation for research in these fields including LC-MSMS, LC-MSQTRAP, LC-TOF, GC-TOF and LC-MS-DAD. 

Our recent establishment of a GC-TOF-based system for metabolomics research has already led to the first publication of a paper on plant-plant interaction results. This platform gives us good possibilities in the future for describing the effects of biologically active molecules on the primary metabolism in target organisms, and thus describing both toxic and health-protecting effects before they are visible to the eye. 

Our research in small molecules involves processes such as biosynthesis, transformation in the environment, mechanisms for uptake and metabolism in the mammal body, fate kinetics, and metabolomics. Our projects focus on such processes and on identification and quantification supplemented with advanced data processing. 

Perspectives

The economic, political and social interest in further developing sustainable agriculture and ensuring healthy soils and foods brings the small, biologically active molecules into focus, no matter whether they are synthetically produced pesticides, natural compounds or primary metabolites. 

Residues of pesticides in food and the environment are unwanted due to their negative environmental effects and possible threats to the health of humans, animals and soil beneficial organisms. Our future focus is to generate more knowledge about joint effects, the influence of adjuvants on the fate and effects of pesticides and about the mechanisms for release of bound residues of pesticides. 

Natural compounds (secondary metabolites) act as natural defense compounds for crops and have a range of health-protective properties. Knowledge about the mechanisms behind such targeted effects is crucial to be able to exploit them. We consistently seek explanations about these mechanisms in a close collaboration between our chemical expertise and the expertise of medical doctors, agronomists, biologists, human pathologists, plant pathologists, molecular biologists, veterinarians, weed scientists, microbiologists and statisticians. 

Our team leader has taken the initiative and led a number of interdisciplinary projects including the European FATEALLCHEM and the joint European-Latin American AMARANTH: FUTURE-FOOD. Our current projects include BREAD AND BREAKFAST and RyeproC

Our results and knowledge are disseminated in scientific publications and teaching activities, including the PhD course “Hands-on LCMSMS - small molecules”, the MSc course “Fate and Effects of Xenobiotics” and the BSc course “Jordbrugets Økotoksikologi”.