Green Foodomics

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Is ?green foodomics? another buzz word or a new direction in food analysis? LCGC spoke to Professor Elena Ibañez to find out more.

Is “green foodomics” another buzzword or a new direction in food analysis? LCGC spoke to Professor Elena Ibañez of the Institute of Food Science Research (CIAL), Madrid, Spain, to find out more.

What is foodomics?

Our research group defined foodomics for the first time in 2009 as “a new discipline that studies the food and nutrition domains through the application and integration of advanced –“omics” technologies to improve [consumer] well-being, health and knowledge”. Basically, we believe that foodomics can help to provide new answers to some of the important challenges (such as food safety and quality, traceability, new foods for health improvement and disease prevention, etc.) that society is facing in the 21st century.

What chromatographic techniques are commonly used in foodomics?
The techniques typically used in foodomics are those typically used in proteomics and metabolomics, such as liquid chromatography (LC), ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC), nano-LC, gas chromatography (GC) and capillary electrophoresis (CE) hyphenated to high resolution mass spectrometry (MS)]. These techniques are able to provide with a great deal of information at different expression levels, including proteins, and metabolites. Logically, an important additional step here is the use of adequate sample preparation techniques.

When was the term “green foodomics” coined and what does it involve?
Foodomics can be understood as a global framework that gathers all the new challenges that the food science domain will be facing in the current post-genomic era (some of them unthinkable a few years ago) and providing new answers through the development and application of new strategies. mainly based on “omics” approaches for large-scale analysis. In this regard, one of the challenges that can impact future generations is sustainability, which is understood as a rational way of improving processes to maximize production while minimizing the environmental impact or, in the words of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations”. Thus, the term “green foodomics” was coined as a way to highlight foodomics goals with regards to green chemistry principles; bearing in mind that sustainability can be not only a word but also a way of doing things.

How easy is it to translate regular chromatography techniques to the green foodomics approach (and can it be cost-effective)?

Application of green chemistry principles to analytical chemistry is not new, although it is true that not much attention has been given to this approach until recently. Although the analytical community has always been environmentally sensitive and the idea of improving analytical methods by reducing the consumption of solvents and reagents has always been at the forefront of the analytical chemists’ mind, the first descriptions of “green analytical chemistry” (or clean analytical methods) appeared in the mid-1990s.1 The concept and use of such an approach has evolved over the years reaching approximately 100 publications by 2011. This evolution positively affects foodomics (and green foodomics) since some of the mentioned applications deal with advanced analytical methodologies applied to food science.

The key aspects that should be considered when regarding the adverse environmental impact of analytical methods deal with reducing the amount and toxicity of solvents during sample pre-treatment, minimizing solvents and reagents during the separation and measurement steps and developing alternative direct analytical methods that do not require solvents or reagents. Moreover, they should also consider developing methods able to consume fewer resources. All of this has to be done whilst maintaining or improving the analytical performance of the method. This is probably the most difficult task and is responsible for a limited translation of conventional methods to greener ones.

Undoubtedly, laboratories that follow the green analytical chemistry principles, applied or not to foodomics, can have many benefits, which include the cost in terms of waste generation and management, health risks and resources preservation.

Can you illustrate the benefits of this approach with some practical examples?

In a recent book chapter we published about “green foodomics”2, we suggested the possibilities offered by tools such as life cycle analysis (LCA) to evaluate the “greenness” of a process by calculating the environmental impact of, for instance, processes and analytical techniques. In fact, a comparative LCA study was presented to quantify the green profile of some analytical techniques used for foodomics.

Specifically, six advanced analytical methods used in our laboratory for chemical characterization of supercritical rosemary antioxidant extracts were selected, namely: high performance liquid chromatography with diode-array detection (HPLC–DAD), micellar electrokinetic capillary chromatography with diode-array detection (MEKC–DAD, ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography with diode-array detection mass spectrometry (UHPLC–DAD–MS), capillary electrophoresis–mass spectrometry (CE–MS), supercritical fluid chromatography with flame Ionization detection (SFC–FID) and gas chromatography with flame Ionization detection (GC–FID). In all of them only the analytical part has been considered for LCA purposes, excluding sample preparation.


Factors considered included reagents used and amount, total analysis time, energy used and wastes generated. By comparing the impacts produced by the different analytical methods obtained by LCA it was possible to assess, for example, that GC–FID was the method that provided the highest impacts because of the high-energy consumption for each analysis, while MEKC–DAD analysis yielded the lowest impacts, even considering that several compounds and additives were present in the mobile phase. As for UHPLC–MS, it exhibited low impacts while providing a lot of information about the sample.

To understand the global dimension of green foodomics it is important to highlight that in our research group we have demonstrated the different effect of supercritical fluid extracts obtained from rosemary, in, for example, the induction of transcription of genes that encode phase II detoxifying and antioxidant genes in two different leukemia cell lines. This effect, together with differences in metabolic profiles, suggested that some dietary polyphenols exert differential chemopreventive effects in leukemia cells of different phenotype.3

Does green foodomics benefit the consumer?

Green foodomics can highly benefit the consumer since it attempts to improve consumer well being and confidence while, at the same time, decreasing contamination and health risks and preserving sustainability.

What is the future for green foodomics?

I believe green foodomics has a brilliant future because sustainability and eco-friendliness of a process or analytical approach will not be considered just an additional advantage but a goal in itself in the future. Therefore, different approaches will have to be closely considered so that greener processes and analytical methods can be developed.

In terms of sample preparation techniques, modern pressurized extraction methods are able to provide additional advantages using significantly less solvents. On the other hand, miniaturized extraction methods are also gaining in importance. The development of integrated approaches will also help to obtain more environmentally friendly processes under the green chemistry domain. Simultaneously, different strategies will be followed to “green” sample analysis, such as the use of novel column technologies, the revision of conventional methods to others using less solvent, miniaturization and the use of water at high temperatures or other non-toxic solvents as chromatographic mobile phases.

1. S. Armenta, S. Garrigues and M. de la Guardia, TrAC - Trends in Analytical Chemistry27(6), 497–511 (2008).
2. J.A. Mendiola, M. Castro-Puyana, M. Herrero and E. Ibáñez, in Foodomics. Advanced Mass Spectrometry in Modern Food Science and Nutrition, A. Cifuentes, Ed.,(John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, USA, 2013), pp. 471–506.
3. V. García-Cañas, C. Simó, M. Herrero, E. Ibáñez and A. Cifuentes, Anal. Chem.84(23), 10150–10159 (2012).

Elena Ibañez is a Full Research Professor at the Institute of Food Science Research (CIAL) belonging to the National Research Council (CSIC) in Madrid, Spain. She received her Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from the University Autonoma of Madrid, Spain and carried out her postdoctoral training at Brigham Young University (BYU), Utah, USA and at the University of California at Davis, California, USA. Elena's main research includes the study and development of new extraction processes based on the use of sub- and supercritical fluids to isolate bioactive compounds from natural products, and also the development of advanced analytical methods for foodomics. She has received numerous national and international awards, and has co-authored more than 150 publications, 14 book chapters and 10 patents. She is VP of the Spanish Society of Chromatography and Related Techniques (SECyTA), President of the Spanish Society of Compressed Fluids (Flucomp) and the Spanish Delegate for COST Actions (EU) in the domain of Food and Agriculture.