Dr Carsten Müller
Chemical communication, smell and olfaction
Chemical signalling in general is fundamental process in all organisms. Chemical substances and mixtures are widely used in chemical communication and defence between organisms, serve as template for pharmaceuticals and can be affected by anthropogenic pollution even at sub-lethal levels.
Bouquets of volatile organic compounds, VOCs, or smells and scents have been shown to carry information on e.g. status, health and condition. My research focuses on analysis of complex bouquets of VOCs, which constitute scent and smells, with the aim to access such information, to inform research into behaviour and ecology and to design commercial applications.
After obtaining my first degree in chemistry I worked in the field of marine chemical ecology for my PhD and chemical ecology has remained my main research interest since.
Currently my research predominantly is focused on role and use of bouquets of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in variety of biological and commercial systems. The literature provides plenty of evidence for the high information content of bouquest of VOCs in smells and scents but studies linking compositon to responses or biomarker panels remain rather scarce.
In a very recent project on the scent of otter spraints (in collaboration with Drs Chadwick and Kean, BIOSI) we were able to show that VOC profiles allowed discrimination of e.g. gender, age and developmental stage and demonstrated the potential of VOC analysis as a complementary tool to genetic analyses in assessing population and status of animals. Two on-going projects on thin-billed prions (with Dr Mazello & Prof Quillfeldt, Giessen) and Proboscis monkeys on Borneo (with Dr Goossens, Prof Bruford, BIOSI) continue to explore role of VOCs and their potential use in assessment.
The role of VOCs in competition and ecology of wood rot fungi is the subject of a long-standing and on-going research collaboration with Prof Boddy (BIOSI). Wood rot fungi are a major driver in forest ecosystems and show fierce competition for resources, which frequently is accompanied by distinct VOC signatures affecting the fungi and the surrounding soil biota.
The commercial use of VOC profiles as indicators of quality and safety of ready-to-eat fresh cut vegetable and fruit, namely rocket and cantaloupe melon, is currently explored within the European project QUAFETY (with Drs Rogers & Spadafora, BIOSI, Markes International, Llantrisant and 13 international partners) and, so far, allowed discrimination of varieties and treatments based on the scent emanating from samples. A major step-change within this project was the introduction of thermodesorption tubes for sampling and sample introduction of VOCs and the use of time-of-flight mass spectrometry for detection. The changes enabled remote sampling and storage of scents and analysis at much lower detection levels (~ 100 fold), which together significantly reduced sample size and increased numbers and level of detected components. For interview on Analysis of VOCs in Food click here
Alongside these projects I also support a number of projects requiring chemical and chemical analytical expertise, most notably a series of projects investigating mode and effect of anti-microbial properties of Garlic, and function of ion-channels. I also maintain a keen interest in ecotoxicology, not least because earlier work demonstrated potential interference between chemical communication and pollution in nereids. Here, past projects we were able to show that endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), namely bouquets of plasticisers move through the food chain and affect bird song performance and immune response of adult birds and fitness of hatchlings at environmentally relevant levels.
- European Commission
- Knowledge Exploitation Fund (KEF)
- Cardiff University (CYRI)
- British Ecological Society
- Cultech Ltd/EPSRC
- Merck Ltd
- Environment Agency
- Prof Petra Quillfeldt (Thin-billed prion, University of Giessen, Germany)
- Dr Juan Mazello (Thin-billed prion, University of Giessen, Germany)
- Dr Inga Mewis (Natural product chemistry, Humboldt University, Germany)
- Prof Lynne Boddy (wood-rot fungi, BIOSI)
- Dr Hefin Jones (wood-rot fungi, BIOSI)
- Dr Hilary Rogers (QUAFETY, VOCs post-harvest and in flowers)
- Dr Elizabeth Chadwick (Otter spraints, Cardiff Otter Project, BIOSI)
- Prof Mike Bruford (Proboscis monkeys)
- Dr Benoit Goossens (Proboscis monkeys)