Anthocyanins are compounds related to the colour of plants. They also have beneficial effects on human health and are used as supplements.
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There are various species of anthocyanins in plants that are divided by their molecular shape. Simple and rapid analytical techniques that can distinguish among these species in crops are necessary for breeding and quality assessment.
A team of Nagoya University researchers in Japan has used a technique called probe electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry to analyze anthocyanins in crops. Their results were published in the journal Horticulture Research.
Conventionally, liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry are used to analyze anthocyanins. However, these require considerable time and work in the pre-treatment and chromatography step.
The team led by associate professor Katsuhiro Shiratake turned to the new technique developed by another member of the team, professor Kei Zaitsu, who used it to analyze metabolites in living organs including the brains of mice. Shiratake’s team instead used it for agricultural applications.
The analysis involves an ambient mass spectrometry approach that is simpler than the conventional method because sampling can be easily done by sticking a probe into the sample. The compounds that adhere to the tip of the probe are ionized using high-voltage electricity and analyzed.
The group analyzed 16 types of fruits and vegetables and successfully detected 81 types of anthocyanins in only three minutes. They also found their technique could detect anthocyanins in small areas of plants, such as the tiny pips found on the skin of strawberries.
“This study suggests the applicability of (the technique) to the analysis of not only anthocyanins but also other plant metabolites,” said Shiratake.
“Plant metabolites contribute to the quality of crops and their processed products, including their taste, aroma, colour and functionality,” Shiratake added, noting the technique eliminates time-consuming steps and can simplify and accelerate analysis.
In the future, the team hopes to incorporate one of Zaitsu’s other platforms, called PiTMaP, which combines the new technique with bioinformatics. They expect this platform will allow them to analyze targeted metabolites and quickly analyze data.