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5 Uses of Chromatography in Everyday Life

Dec 04 2014 Comments 1

For those not initiated in the world of the sciences, the term chromatography might not ring many bells. But in fact, the process is one which affects our daily lives in a variety of ways. Used to separate out a compound into its various components, chromatography plays a part in the realms of forensics, food regulation, athlete testing and even quality control in our favourite alcoholic drinks.

Here are five of the more everyday uses of chromatography that might surprise you.

Forensic Testing

Are you a fan of programmes like CSI and Law and Order? Well, in real life, gas chromatography is often used to investigate criminal cases like the ones featured on those shows.

This can take the form of crime scene testing (the analysis of blood or cloth samples), arson verification (identifying the chemicals responsible for a fire to see whether there was foul play) or blood testing after death to determine levels of alcohol, drugs or poisonous substances in the body.

For a more thorough analysis of this topic, see the article: How is Gas Chromatography Used in Forensics?

Performance Enhancing Drug Testing

Of course, not all blood samples are taken after death. The precision and accuracy with which chromatography can identify substances in the bloodstream make it valuable in testing for doping or performance enhancing drugs in athletes, too.

Interestingly, the news story, doping tests also work on horses, reveals how a new hybrid form of liquid chromatography combined with mass spectrometry can also be applied to our equine friends.

Horsemeat Scandal

Speaking of horses, the scandal of 2013 highlighted the fact that some disreputable meat vendors were replacing beef patties with horsemeat. Since traditional methods of meat detection and analysis proved to be inconclusive, chromatography came riding in on a white… ahem. You get the idea.

Is My Burger Horse? talks in more detail about the inefficacy of existing methods and how chromatography altered all of that.

Quality You Can Taste

It’s not just food that chromatography is useful in analysing. If you’ve ever reached the end of the night and decided to sign off in style with a round of Jägermeisters, you may have wondered how the manufacturers of the smooth liqueur maintain their quality levels (you almost definitely haven’t).

However, the owners of Jägermeister take their brand very seriously, rigorously monitoring the levels of sugar that go into the final product. With no margin for error, chromatography is once again called upon to ensure top quality in every bottle… and that you have a night to remember (or forget).

Ebola Immunisation

As well as specialising in more flippant matters such as the quality of alcohol, chromatography may also be critical in saving millions of lives. The deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed over 5,000 lives since its outbreak late last year, has caused panic in the media and in the countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, to which it has been largely confined.

As scientists attempt to combat the disease, chromatography has revealed itself as incredibly useful in determining which antibodies are more effective in neutralising Ebola. Although no drugs have been conclusively validated as yet, it was instrumental in the development of the experimental immunisation Zmapp and will continue to be used in ongoing research. For more information, see the article: Can Chromatography Help Cure Ebola?

Image Source: Jägermeister
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