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Research programme

Functional foods and food supplements

(head: dr. Irena Vovk; range: 3.5 FTE; duration: 1.1.2020 - 31.12.2025)


The program group is focused on the topic "food and health" from the point of view of natural sciences. We conduct basic and applied research in the fast-evolving field of functional foods and food supplements.

We are aware that quality functional foods and food supplements, which influence the quality of the human life, are based on long-term observations, epidemiological studies, laboratory experiments etc. We investigate bioactive natural compounds, which are known to have beneficial effect on the human (and animal) organism, and their research is still globally on-going.

We develop knowledge in the field of analytical chemistry of different groups of compounds (e.g. carotenoids, flavonoids, sterols, triterpenoids, naphthoquinones, vitamins) where method development is based on chromatographic ((U)HPLC, HPTLC, GC, IC) and hyphenated techniques ((U)HPLC-MS, HPTLC-MS, GC-MS, IC-MS), which represents the focus of our work. We follow global innovations in the development of techniques and materials and develop analytical methods also for clients from industry, other research groups and government bodies.

We acquire the necessary knowledge of bioactive compounds for the preparation of new functional foods and food supplements with specific nutritional or physiological effects. With this knowledge we cooperate in critical evaluation of existing and development of new products. We select raw materials of plant origin and develop procedures for the acquisition of bioactive compounds. We study complexes between small molecules of bioactive compounds and large molecules of various biopolymers, which are the basis for understanding these processes at the molecular level. These interactions are also a prerequisite for the search of new original solutions for new functional foods and food supplements, where these bioactive compounds are sufficiently stabilized and transformed into a more bioavailable form. Different research techniques enable us an insight into the formation of the connections between active compounds of which selected properties we want to optimize, and compounds (mostly oligo- and polymeric compounds) which allow the desired changes. These studies produce basic perception of chemical bonds and atom orientation in the newly formed environment of the active compound.

Previous achievements of our program group in this field are: water soluble coenzyme Q10 - marketed in functional foods, food supplements and cosmetics under the trademark Q10Vital; increased aqueous solubility of the pigment shikonin via a complex with β-lactoglobulin; carotenoids encapsulated in natural polymers, etc.

In the frame of the program, our researchers mentor undergraduate and postgraduate students from Slovenia and abroad. This contributes to an increase in the number of specialized personnel with knowledge of analytical chemistry and, in particular, chromatographic techniques who will become an interesting resource for companies and research institutions.


Research project N1-0235: "Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) - a potential source of bioactive compounds", PI: dr. Irena Vovk, Slovenian Research Agency, 2022 – 2024

Research project J4-3092: "Development of biologically active and chemically stable xanthophylls based on a sustainable esterification of xanthophylls from renewable natural resources", PI: dr. Alen Albreht, Slovenian Research Agency, 2021-2024

Bilateral project BI-HU/21-22-007 (Slovenia – Hungary): "Antimicrobial compounds of alien goldenrods", PI: dr. Irena Vovk, Slovenian Research Agency,  2021-2023

Bilateral project BI-TR-JR-2019/30 (Slovenia –  Turkey): "Chemical characterization and activity profile of bee pollen extracts from Turkey and Slovenia" PI: dr. Irena Vovk, Slovenian Research Agency, 2020-2023

European project (EIT reference: 1.1.8, Code: 210041): "MEDCLIV - MEDiterranean CLimate Vine and Wine Ecosystem", co-funded by European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Climate-KIC and Slovenian Research Agency, 2019-2022

European project UIA02-228: "APPLAUSE - Alien Plant Species from harmful to useful with citizens' led activities", European Regional Development Fund, 2017-2020

Research project "Early Career Researchers 2.0" C3330-17-529013:  "Development, testing and (pre)validation of analytical methods based on liquid chromatography for determination of the quality of active pharmaceutical ingredients and drugs", PI: dr. Katerina Naumoska, Slovenian Ministry of Education Science and Sport & European Regional Development Fund, 2017-2020

Strategic Research and Innovation Partnership SRIP FOOD ("SRIP HRANA"), Slovenian Ministry of Economic Development and Technology & European Regional Development Fund, 2017-2020

COST Action CA15136 "European network to advance carotenoid research and applications in agro-food and health (EUROCAROTEN)", 2016-2020

Research and development programme: "Food for Future (F4F)" (TRL 3-6) based on Smart Specialisation Strategy - S4, Slovenian Ministry of Education Science and Sport & European Regional Development Fund, 2016-2020

Research programme (P1-0005): "Functional food and food supplements" , Slovenian Research Agency, 2015-2019

Applied research project: "Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi L.) as raw material for production of a plant supplement with zeaxanthin for fortifying poultry feed", Slovenian Research Agency, 2011-2014

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