Plant Nutrition, Quality and Food Authenticity

In the research theme “Plant Nutrition, Quality and Food Authenticity” we investigate the impact of plant nutrition on the quality of plant based food and feed. Our research is based on development and utilization of advanced analytical methods that enable us to study the effects of different fertilization strategies, agricultural management practices, microclimates etc. This has e.g. been utilized in studies aimed at unravelling systematic differences between organically and conventionally grown crops.

Our analytical methods include ion chromatography for separation and quantification of anions and cations in plants as well as a range of atomic spectroscopy based techniques for multi-elemental and stable isotope analysis. We have e.g. developed novel methods for high-throughput analysis of most elements of the periodic table (elemental fingerprinting) using ICP-MS. In addition, we conduct stable isotope ratio analysis of the light mass elements hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and sulphur in liquid, gaseous and solid samples.  

In our current projects, we focus on development of analytical methods for authenticity testing of high-value plant products. Consumers are increasingly requesting high-quality food that is nutritious and authentic. Products originating from specific geographical regions or that are produced or processed according to specific methods are thus sold at premium prices. Consequently, analytical methods that can verify the authenticity of plant products are urgently needed. Our methods for multi-elemental and stable isotope analysis have proven valuable for determining where and how plants have been grown and are thus suitable for food authenticity testing. Currently we aim to increase the sensitivity and specificity of these methods by investigating the isotopic signatures of specific plant compounds such as nitrate and sulphate (compound-specific stable isotope analysis).

Keywords: Analytical chemistry, Authenticity testing, Food quality, Mass spectrometry, Plant nutrition, Stable isotopes

Research activities: 

  • IsoTracer: Compound-specific isotope ratio analysis for tracing nutrients in the soil-plant system. Researchers: Maria Monrad Larsen, Jakob Magid and Kristian Holst Laursen.
  • COM-ISO: Compound-specific isotope ratio analysis as a novel and powerful tool for authentication of plant products. Funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research, Technology and Production Sciences. Researchers: Vlastimil Novak and Kristian Holst Laursen.
  • FoodIntegrity: Ensuring the integrity of the European food chain - implementation of new analytical methods. Funded under the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). Researchers: Søren Husted and Kristian Holst Laursen.
  • SoilTracker: Forensic toolkit for fingerprinting soil. Funded by Innovation Fund Denmark. Researchers: Maria Monrad Larsen, Søren Husted and Kristian Holst Laursen.

Selected publications:

  • Novak V, Adler J, Husted S, Fromberg A and Laursen KH (2019): Authenticity testing of organically grown vegetables by stable isotope ratio analysis of oxygen in plant-derived sulphate. Food Chemistry, 291: 59-67.
  • Ballin NZ and Laursen KH (2019): To target or not to target? Definitions and nomenclature for targeted versus non-targeted analytical food authentication. Trends in Food Science and Technology, 86: 537-543.
  • Laursen KH, Bontempo L, Camin F and Roβmann A (2016): Advances in isotopic analysis for food authenticity testing. In: Advances in Food Authenticity Testing. 227-252. Edited by Gerard Downey. Woodhead Publishing. Series in Food Science, Technology and Nutrition. ISBN: 9780081002209
  • Laursen KH, Schjoerring JK, Kelly SD and Husted S (2014): Review: Authentication of organically grown plants - advantages and limitations of atomic spectroscopy for multi-element and stable isotope analysis. Trends in Analytical Chemistry, 59: 73-82.
  • Laursen KH, Mihailova A, Kelly SD, Epov VN, Bérail S, Schjoerring JK, Donard OFX, Larsen EH, Pedentchouk N, Marca-Bell AD, Halekoh U, Olesen JE and Husted S (2013): Is it really organic? -  multi-isotopic analysis as a tool to discriminate between organic and conventional plants. Food Chemistry, 141: 2812-2820.
  • Laursen KH, Schjoerring JK, Olesen JE, Askegaard M, Halekoh U and Husted S (2011): Multielemental Fingerprinting as a tool for Authentication of Organic Wheat, Barley, Faba Bean, and Potato. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 59: 4385-4396.
  • Laursen KH, Hansen TH, Persson DP, Schjoerring JK and Husted S (2009): Multi-elemental fingerprinting of plant tissue by semi-quantitative ICP-MS and chemometrics. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, 24: 1198-1207.