who we are

Laboratory of Foodomics

Our Institute

  • Instituto de Investigación en Ciencias de la Alimentación (CIAL)
  • Consejo Superior de Investigaciónes Científicas
  • Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
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The term "Foodomics" was first defined in an SCI publication by our research group (J. Chromatogr. A 1216 (2009) 7109; Anal. Chem. 84 (2012) 10150). At the Foodomics Lab, we developed and used mass analysis techniques (transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics) to investigate aspects of food and nutrition that were unapproachable until a few years ago (including bioactivity, safety and quality of food at the molecular level ). Our lines of research also include: Development of advanced methods of food analysis; Ingredients and functional foods; Development of processes with subcritical and supercritical fluids; Characterization and control of food quality; Food safety.

The short-term objective is to be able to study, through an alimentary approach, how food affects the prevention or evolution of diseases that have a high incidence in our society, specifically colon and Alzheimer's. Ideally in the future it will be possible to give some guidelines to each individual about the diet that provides the highest health standards and the lowest risk of certain diseases, although this personalized diet will be viable in the very long term. The ultimate goal of Alimentómica is to improve the health, well-being and knowledge of consumers as well as their confidence in the foods they consume.

Lines of research

Foodomics: We have defined for the first time in a SCI journal the new field of Foodomics (see Mass Spectrom. Rev. 31 (2012) 49-69; Electrophoresis 31 (2010) 205 and/or J. Chromatogr. A 1216 (2009) 7109). In this line of research we develop Transcriptomics, Proteomics and Metabolomics approaches in order to study how foods (including functional ingredients) interact with genome and the subsequent modifications that these interactions can generate at Proteome and Metabolome level. Also, we apply MS-based omics approaches to investigate non-intended modifications in transgenic foods, and to study issues related to food quality and safety as a whole.

Characterisation of foods by DNA analysis: in this line of research we develop new analytical procedures combining polymerase chain reaction (PCR) procedures and capillary gel electrophoresis with laser induced fluorescence (CGE-LIF) to characterize foods including variety, authenticity, safety, etc. We have demonstrated the good possibilities of this PCR-CGE-LIF approach detecting e.g., pathogens, grape variety or lactic bacteria in foods.

Evaluation of food quality by studying the enantiomeric composition of target molecules. Development of chiral separation methods using capillary electrophoresis with laser induced fluorescence or mass spectrometry as a powerful analytical tool to detect frauds and adulterations (last works applied to chiral amino acids in orange juices and vinegars).

Development of methodologies to analyze peptides and proteins in foods. Assessment of the quality and authenticity. Development of CE-MS procedures for Proteomic studies applied to Food Science including genetically modified organisms. For instance, we have already carried out by CE-MS the comparison of a recombinant enzyme pepsin vs. its natural counterpart. This approach is now being used to compare the Proteomic profile of transgenic maize and soy vs. their natural isogenic lines. This line falls within the development of "profiling techniques" for GMOs following the recommendations of the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA.

Detection of GMOs in foods. In this research line (in collaboration with Microbiology Department at IFI) we develop DNA based techniques combined with capillary gel electrophoresis and laser induced fluorescence procedures to detect and quantitate GMOs in foods (maize and soy), following the legal recommendation for labelling (i.e., any food with a GMO content higher than 0.9% must be labelled as "containing GMOs").

Study of the bioactivity of the constituents of foods: Even though the properties of some products used as foods (microalgae, species, etc.) are known in the literature, there are no strong scientific evidences supporting the relationship between bioactivity and food composition. In our group, we are working in the chemical and functional characterization of food products (or extracts) in order to correlate the activity shown with the chemical composition. Bioactivities studied are antioxidant (in this sense, there is an overlap with next research line), antimicrobial and antiviral.

Obtaining and assessing antioxidants in foods: Antioxidants are a specific area of research by themselves because of the importance of such group of compounds as health promoting. Obtaining natural antioxidants from natural sources is not an easy task since the purification processes must be developed in order to decrease the possibility of degradation via oxidation of such products. Our group develops new environmentally clean processes, working at mild conditions to avoid degradation of antioxidants, to obtain new antioxidant products (both, hydrosoluble and liposoluble) using only natural raw materials. One of the main challenges deals with the "discovery" of new natural sources of such ingredients. Our group is also developing methods to asses the antioxidant activity of the new products obtained.

The exploitation of surplus foods and agricultural food by-products: Agricultural food by-products can be a source of environmental problems but also a source of inexpensive raw material, if high added value products can be obtained from them. In our group we have been working in the reuse of, for example, olive oil by-products.

Obtaining functional ingredients and foods from natural sources (legumes, microalgae, yeasts, aromatic plants, etc.): Our group has a great expertise working in the obtention of functional ingredients from aromatic plants (rosemary, oregano, etc.). In this sense, we have been working in the extraction and isolation of antioxidants, essential oil and antimicrobials from these materials. Few years ago, in the search of new natural sources of functional ingredients, we selected microalgae since they had not been widely and exhaustively studied and, on the other hand, their potential seemed really important. At present we believe algae in general can be a good source of new functional ingredients therefore, we will continue studying these products.

Release systems for active compounds. The idea is the development and monitoring new polymeric devices for controlled release of "nutraceuticals" (or any high-value ingredient). These delivery systems must avoid: e.g. the oxidation of compounds by air, the degradation in the stomach (passing to the intestine where they are absorbed), the controlled release of aroma, etc. This line has already started in collaboration with the ICTP (Polimers Institute, CSIC) using as bioactive compounds pharmaceuticals.

Detection of food pathogens. The idea is to develop fast and sensitive procedures for the detection of food pathogens. We have already developed new methods to detect Listeria, Staphilococus and Salmonella in meats using DNA techniques combined with CGE-LIF without the laboriuos enrichment usually required by the classical microbiological methods.

Detection of pesticides in foods. Within this line we develop methods based on the combined use of "off-line" sample preparation techniques (such as SPE and SPME), "on-line" preconcentration techniques (such as stacking), and capillary electrophoresis-mass spectrometry procedures for the ultrasensistive detection of pesticides (at ppt levels) in different samples such as e.g., water, fruit juices, soy milk.

Development of extraction and fractionation with subcritical and supercritical fluids: At present there is a great interest in the development of environmentally clean processes, able to substitute traditional ones that work with organic solvents. Requirements for such processes are: the use of green solvents (GRAS or Generally Recognized As Safe, when talking about food processes), no contamination through generation of residues or traces of organic solvents in the final food products and ingredients. Our group has been working in the development of supercritical fluid extraction and separation processes to isolate valuable compounds from different natural sources, such as aromatic plants, foods, food by-products and microalgae. Our group has been the first one in Spain to develop processes based in the use of subcritical solvents (mainly water working in the process so called SWE or subcritical water extraction). This process is based on the use of water at high temperatures (and pressures) to extract compounds of medium polarity since the dielectric constant of water decreases at these conditions at values close to those of polar organic solvents. 

Our group have the following analytical instruments (click here).

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If you like research and you have a good academic record, do not hesitate to contact us