Plant extracts are always multi-component mixtures which contain nutrients, along with a variety of potent bioactive compounds. Only precise analysis of all compounds responsible for their effects, allows for safe and effective use. Determining the exact concentration of active compounds in plant extracts is just as important. Whether a substance has a beneficial effect or may even be toxic, is often only a matter of the right dosage.
The widespread perception among consumers, that “herbal origin” necessarily means that a product is harmless, is a dangerous illusion. As a matter of fact, plants are not able to flee their enemies or engage in physical fights. That is why they have developed numerous chemical weapons to protect themselves against pathogens, herbivores or simply to compete for space and light. Only through optimized extraction and separation procedures, a reasonable use of the healing effects of herbs can be facilitated.
Mass spectrometry is the untargeted approach, enabling detection of all compounds present in a specific plant extract. From the resulting data in combination with biological analysis, correlations between individual substances and specific effects are identified.
Targeted investigations are applied for thorough investigation of components, which have already been identified. For example, it allows for a quantitative determination of individual substances necessary for developing optimized extraction techniques.
Screening for Active Components
The targeted screening for bioactive substances is performed in our Cell Biology Department. Different test samples of one specific plant extract are screened for promising candidate compounds in a systematical and automatized fashion. The extracts are tested in cell culture systems, customized for the specific research target. Thereafter, biostatistical correlations of the results with those from the Analytical Department are analyzed, thus revealing the context between individual compounds and biological effects.