Life Science Applications of Chromatography

Chromatography is widely used in various life science applications. Some important applications of chromatography in the food, molecular biology, and forensic sectors are discussed below.


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Food industry

Spoilage detection

Chromatography can be used in flavor studies and to detect spoilage in foods. Determining the number of organic acids in foods provides key information about the quality of foods. Column chromatography is used to detect and quantify spoilage indicators such as pyruvic acid in milk. Pyruvic acid content is a measure of psychrotrophic bacteria present in milk.

The same separation method is used to assess the total organic acid profile of milk and to measure lactose, which indicates the level of sweetness. Chromatography enables rapid analysis when compared with techniques such as bacterial plating, which may take several days to yield results. Rapid analysis is crucial in the food industry to prevent the outbreak of spoilage and to minimize possible health risks.

Additive detection

Additives are added to foods to enhance their flavors or to give them a visual appeal. For example, the presence of added malic acid in apple juice is more difficult to detect because apple juice naturally contains malic acid. However, synthetic malic acid contains fumaric acid as a contaminant and hence its level in an apple juice sample is an indicator of the commercial malic acid. Chromatography has been successfully used to detect and quantify fumaric acid in apple juice.

Determining nutritional quality

Vitamin C depletion in foods can be an indicator of depletion of other nutrients and so the vitamin C content of foods and beverages is closely monitored during all stages of food processing using column chromatography. This analysis can be carried out rapidly using modern acid analysis columns coupled with electrochemical detection even in complex samples. This technique is used to quantitate vitamin C in juices, powdered drinks, and both fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits.


Crime scene testing

Gas chromatography is used to test evidence such as blood or hair from a crime scene. This allows investigators to understand the crime better and to develop theories on what exactly happened and where the victim has been earlier, based on the material found.

Forensic pathology

Gas chromatography (GC) has been widely used in forensic pathology to identify the type of compounds and fluids present in the human body, post-death. This testing can help detect the presence of alcohol or drugs or poisonous substances in the body at the time of death, thus assisting in determining the possible motive and cause of death.

Arson investigation

GC is a low-cost technique used to identify ignitable/flammable liquids from fire debris. In comparison with a list of flammable liquids publically available, the exact kind of liquid used can be concluded. Mass spectrometry (MS) characterization of the separated components yields better and more precise results.

Blood at Crime Scene

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Find out more about the role of chromatography in forensic science here.

Molecular biology studies

Hybrid techniques that combine electrochemistry (EC) and MS with chromatography are powerful tools in the study of redox reactions involving various bioorganic molecules. ESI-MS is coupled with liquid chromatography (LC) separation for the characterization of the reaction mixture. EC–LC-MS is applied in the study of biomolecules such as proteins, peptides, and nucleic acids.

Metabolomics and proteomics

EC–LC-MS is essential in mimicking biotransformation reactions, such as phase I oxidative reactions in drug metabolism studies. The technology has been applied in the study of pharmaceutical compounds such as; acetaminophen, diclofenac, lidocaine, clozapine, haloperidol, flunitrazepam, chlorpromazine, alprenolol, albendazole, and verapamil.

In proteomics, this technique is used to analyze the oxidation of proteins and peptides and in selective labeling of these substances. Chromatography techniques are also widely used in the purification of plasma proteins, hormones, monoclonal antibodies, and vaccines as part of their development.

Nucleic acids research

Electrochemistry coupled with LC, MS, or gas chromatography (GC) has been successfully used to identify the oxidation products of nucleobases, nucleotides, and nucleosides. This has accelerated the identification of these compounds compared to long-drawn-out isolation steps.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 21, 2021

Susha Cheriyedath

Written by

Susha Cheriyedath

Susha has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in Chemistry and Master of Science (M.Sc) degree in Biochemistry from the University of Calicut, India. She always had a keen interest in medical and health science. As part of her masters degree, she specialized in Biochemistry, with an emphasis on Microbiology, Physiology, Biotechnology, and Nutrition. In her spare time, she loves to cook up a storm in the kitchen with her super-messy baking experiments.


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