Using trees to identify adulterants in foods

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  • Published: Feb 17, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: HPLC / Laboratory Informatics / Chemometrics & Informatics / Base Peak
thumbnail image: Using trees to identify adulterants in foods

Mass spectral trees have been employed to detect illegal adulterants in foods and herbal preparations after analysis by liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry.

The use of mass spectrometry to analyse adulterants is not new but Chinese scientists in Beijing have developed a single LC/MS method that can screen for unknown compounds from different classes in one method, aided by a data processing technique known as mass spectral tree similarity filtering, as described in Journal of Separation Science. This compares the mass spectral breakdown patterns of unknown samples to those of template compounds in a library and produces similarity scores with which to asses the quality of the match.

The technique relies on accurate retention times and high-resolution multistage (MSn) mass spectral measurements and was illustrated with 63 adulterants and their analogues which were tested for in 50 samples acquired locally or over the Internet. A total of 22 were found to be adulterated.

The mass spectral tree method can confirm known adulterants but can also predict the structures of unknown ones from the resemblance of their trees to those in the library. They can all then by quantified from the tandem mass spectrometry data. The newly discovered compounds are added to the library to increase its coverage.

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