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Dr Carsten Müller

Dr Carsten Müller

Senior Lecturer

School of Biosciences

+44 (0)29 2087 5263
+44 (0)29 2087 4116
C/5.09, Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX


Research overview

Chemical communication, smell and olfaction

Chemical signalling in general is fundamental process in all organisms. Chemical substances and mixtures are widely used to communicate between, attract and defend against organisms of the same and different species. Flavours and fragrances are made of chemicals, many biologically active chemicals serve as template for pharmaceuticals and anthropogenic pollution (in itself often a mixture of chemicals) can affect such communication even at sub-lethal levels.

Smells and scents, flavour and fragrance are mostly complex bouquets of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In fruit and vegetable such bouquets have been shown to indicate e.g. quality, freshness and variety of products. In animals these bouquets in the form of scent marks and signals can carry information on e.g. individuum, status, health and condition. My research investigates such VOC bouquets using state-of-the-art chemical analytical and statistical tools with the aim to understand behaviour and ecology mediated by VOCs, to monitor processes that lead to changes in VOC bouquets and based on this to develop monitoring tools for applications in commerce, conservation and health.


  • Deputy Module Lead: BI1014 Biological Chemistry
  • Academic Lead: Small Molecule Research Hub
  • Lead: Field Course - Marine Conservation

Interested in joining my lab as a self-funded post-graduate student or a postdoc/fellow?  Please contact me by email.


I started my studies of Chemistry at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel, Germany in 1981 because of my interest in environmental issues of the time specifically environmental pollution. After my Vordiplom in 1984, the same interests led me to change to the Carl-v.-Ossietzky University, Oldenburg, Germany in 1985, where I completed my studies with Diplom in Chemistry in 1988.

While in Oldenburg, I joined the Aquatic Chemical Ecology Research Group of Prof. E. Zeeck at first for a course work on persistence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil spills in seawater, in 1986. The work led on to my MSc thesis on “Distribution and concentration of VOCs in the German Bight” and the subsequent offer for a PhD position in the group starting in 1989.

For my PhD I researched sex pheromones in the ragworm species Alita succinea and succeeded in the isolation and identification of the female gamete release pheromone, completing the experimental work in 1994 and receiving my PhD in 1995.

After working in business from 1994 to 1997, I joint the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University in March 1997 as Marie Curie fellow to work with Dr Hardege on marine chemical ecology and polychaetes.

In 1999 I was appointed lecturer and because of my training in analytical chemistry also became the academic lead of the analytical services of the school now Small Molecule Hub and since 2015 Senior Lecturer.



















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.

Current funding

  • Welcome Trust - ISSF

Past funding

  • Knowledge Exploitation Fund (KEF)
  • Cardiff University (CYRI)
  • British Ecological Society
  • NERC
  • Cultech Ltd/EPSRC
  • Merck Ltd
  • Environment Agency
  • NPower