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Natural product chemistry and environmental chemistry

Natural product chemicals, xenobiotics and primary metabolites: All of them 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 therefore be exploited in self-defense 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.

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

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

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 environment and food are unwanted due to their negative environmental effects and possible threats to 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 the 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, and much is still not understood. We consistently seek explanation 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 results and knowledge are disseminated in scientific publications and in our teaching activities

In brief: CHEMISTRY IN AGROECOLOGY. We conduct chemical research into small molecules in plants, soil and air that are relevant to the cultivation and use of agricultural crops, to the agricultural environment and to the health of the consumer.