analysis of fatty acidsNo, I am not looking for my place in the spotlights, nor do I want to compete in the X-factor TV show. For all you folks wanting to read about how to become famous, you can stop right now. Chromatographers reading this piece will have immediately realized it is about the analysis of fatty acid methyl esters (FAMES) (link to FAMES wiki) which are monitored in blood, food, plants, biofuels and most likely in more matrices than I can imagine or list here.

 

Fatty Acids: Move Your Body, Move Your Car

Fatty acids are carboxylic acids with a long aliphatic tail (chain), which is either saturated or unsaturated. The compounds are basically used as fuel inside our bodies when metabolized fatty acids generate ATP or adenosine triphosphate. And, fatty acids are important to your car if you are using biodiesel. The distribution of fatty acids in biodiesel is important to determine the cetane number, which is a measure of the combustion speed of the fuel. In the case of commercial biofuels, they must meet the requirements defined in ASTM D6751 and EN 14214 standards prior to being commercialized as pure biofuel or blending stock for heating and diesel fuels. Gas chromatography is commonly used to characterize pure biodiesel as described in this application note, titled, Determination of Total FAME and Linolenic Acid Methyl Ester in Pure Biodiesel (B100) by GC in Compliance with EN 14103 (downloadable PDF).

 

Are We What We Eat?

The food industry is always tracking adulteration of edible oils, for example, the adulteration of olive oil with cheaper types of oils, by looking at the fatty acid profiling. And, fast analytical methods are essential for the industry as a quick analysis can prevent further processing of the edible oils or stopping the trucks at the gates of the factory for adulterated products. In addition, the food industry checks for trans and saturated fatty acids, which are formed when hardening plant oils.

By the way, if you are looking to test for olive oil adulteration, here is a poster note, titled, Determination of Olive Oil Adulteration by Principal Component Analysis with HPLC–Charged Aerosol Detector Data, (downloadable PDF), featuring an HPLC and charged aerosol detection method can be used for purity analysis without base-catalyzed hydrolysis.

In general, fatty acids are considered to pose a bigger health risk to humans as they contribute to cholesterol levels in the body. Blood pressure regulation and the immune system are just a few examples of the usefulness of fatty acids for human health. All can be synthesized in the body, but a few which are called essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) cannot be synthesized by the body and acquired by eating foods that are good sources of these fatty acids, such as plant oil. I found an informative read by the FAO on dietary recommendations on total fatty acids plus fat digestion and metabolism (downloadable PDF).

The presence and levels of fatty acids, such as omega 3 fatty acids, are monitored in blood because they are a key factor in the development of young children and are also associated with living healthily. Fatty acid profiles and concentrations are also needed for nutritional, epidemiological, and clinical studies. By the way, the analysis of such acids takes a couple of minutes and the sampling is not invasive: all that is needed is a bloodspot on blotting paper. Here is an interesting GC-MS/MS application note on for the routine analysis of FAMEs in blood spot samples: Increasing Productivity in FAMEs Analysis through Increased Selectivity (downloadable PDF).

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Fatty Acids: Defenders of Plant Cells

In plant metabolomics, the fatty acids are analyzed because they are components of cellular membranes and cutin waxes in plants. Their role is to provide barriers to the environment and are a key factor in increasing plant cell stress resistance and defense responses to pathogens as described in this research article, titled, Fatty acid unsaturation, mobilization, and regulation in the response of plants to stress (link to abstract).

 

Can I Have Some More, Please?

There are so many scientists in so many fields studying FAMES: plant and animal metabolomics; plants used as fuels for cars and animals; food quality; fuel quality; and quality of human life. All connected, all intertwined.

There is no doubt in my mind that I have forgotten many other applications where FAMES need to be analyzed; feel free to reach out to me and complete the story.

 

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