The World's Leading PTR-MS Trace Analyzers Company

Agriculture and Livestock

Real-time biological research with PTR-MS

The ample advantages of PTR-MS are particularly beneficial for agriculture and livestock research. From agricultural field emissions to VOCs originating from cattle, pigs, chicken or sheep, there is virtually no application which has not been investigated in great detail with the extremely sensitive PTR-MS technology.

IONICON is also actively promoting research in biological applications of PTR-MS, e.g. via participation in the FP7-IAPP project "PTR-TOF" or in the industrial CASE studentship "On-line detection and diagnosis of plant damage and stress by herbivores and pathogens". For more information see our project website. The gathered experience helps us to develop even better products and to support our customers in biological research.

Plant studies

Among the most prominent benefits of PTR-MS are real-time capability and direct injection without any sample preparation. These are of utmost importance when VOCs released upon plant damage have to be analyzed and monitored. In a lab environment scientists usually put leaves or whole plants in cuvettes in order to monitor released trace gases. However, also many large scale experiments involving grassland, crops, woodland or ploughed soil have been performed with great success.

Plant damage can occur due to many reasons: mechanical wounding, weather damage, harvesting and mowing, herbivore attacks, and also various types of stress (drought, extreme temperatures, high ozone levels, etc.). As the VOC release upon plant damage typically is a rapid and highly dynamic process, conventional off-line technologies are not suitable because they are only capable of analyzing snapshots, but not the actual process as a whole. With PTR-MS the released VOCs can be directly analyzed, with high sensitivity, selectivity and at time resolutions of up to 10 Hz.

One early example of a typical plant study was published in 2011 by Brilli et al. where biogenic VOCs released upon leaf wounding and light / dark changing were investigated in detail. The authors state that "PTR-TOF measurements unambiguously captured the kinetic of the large emissions of green leaf volatiles (GLVs) and acetaldehyde after wounding and darkening" and they even discovered a new class of C5 compounds in wounding induced biogenic VOC emission.

T. Turlings and M. Held (Université de Neuchâtel) showed that plants under attack from caterpillars release specific VOCs. Volicitin in the saliva of caterpillars induces defense genes leading to the formation of indole and further VOCs which attract wasps. The wasps use the caterpillars in their reproduction cycle and by that "do a favor" to the plants.

Utilizing an IONICON PTR-TOFMS instrument Schausperger et al. investigated the effects of an mycorrhizal fungus on the chemical composition of herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs) emitted by bean plants attacked by spider mites and attraction of the spider mites’ natural enemy to these HIPVs. "Our study provides a key example of an adaptive indirect HIPVmediated interaction of a belowground microorganism with an aboveground carnivore."


These are just some examples from the hundreds of high-class plant studies which have been made possible with the unique IONICON PTR-MS technology. We are happy to provide you with a personal showcase tailored to your specific plant study application! This will also answer the question which IONICON PTR-MS instrument combined with which add-ons will make the perfect pairing for your specific needs.

Stock farming

Livestock facilities are a crucial element in the supply chain of meat. However, odorous emissions from intensive livestock production can be a cause of nuisance in rural areas. Particularly the group around A. Feilberg (Aarhus University, Denmark) performed in-depth investigations on odorant compound release using IONICON PTR-MS technology. Already in one of their early publications they concluded: "PTR-MS measurements has for the first time enabled insights into the temporal variation in emissions of odorants from intensive pig production."

In a more recent study by Aarhus University photocatalytic degradation of odorous compounds (four reduced sulfur compounds, 1-butanol, four volatile fatty acids) was investigated. They conclude: "It has been demonstrated that PTR-MS is a useful tool for researching photocatalysis, and the results of this study can be used to optimise photocatalysis in the reduction of emissions of offensive odours in realistic conditions."

Recently, M. Dunlop (University of New South Wales, Australia) did a PhD thesis on odor emissions from poultry litter utilizing a TOF based IONICON PTR-MS instrument. One of his key findings was that the emission rates of some odorants were significantly affected by the chicken litter conditions, i.e. if the litter was dry or wet. In his thesis Dunlop appreciates that the IONICON PTR-TOF 1000 enabled measuring the concentrations of VOCs in real-time. This is a crucial benefit which would have been absolutely impossible with common standard methods like TD-GC-MS. Furthermore, using PTR-MS data odorant emission rates and odor activity values could be calculated.

Many other areas of animal husbandry have been studied with PTR-MS instruments, often leading to groundbreaking results. However, no matter if the effect of emissions from dairy cattle on ozone formation or the composition of VOCs released from sheep sheds have to be investigated, the vast majority of researchers have always relied on the unmatched IONICON technology with its various add-ons, accessories and the patented TRU-E/N ion-chemistry quality.