Chemical Analytics

KWS’ oldest research unit

Analysis down to the tiniest detail

Apart from genes, stress conditions influence a plant’s development. Chemical Analytics makes these influences visible.

A broad range of services across all KWS crops – Chemical Analytics has analyzed seed samples and plant material for various traits since the company was founded.

Anyone walking into Chemical Analytics in Einbeck feels like they’ve landed in a high-tech research laboratory. And that’s no illusion: “We examine just about everything here – from A for amino acid to Z for zein,” says Elke Hilscher with a laugh. As head of the research group, which is divided into four teams, she has worked over the past years to ensure that analytics can deliver even more services internally and thus offer strong support for seed production, breeding and research. That commitment has paid off.

One sign of that is that Chemical Analytics has no shortage of work. 22 employees conduct chemical and spectroscopic analyses for research and breeding and all of KWS’ Business Units worldwide. Samples of seed or plant material arrive daily from Europe and the U.S. – more than 300,000 samples a year are processed by the Chromatography, General Laboratory Analytics, Process Analytics Technology and Sugarbeet Technology teams.

Elke Hilscher: “Our results are important for breeding and research.”

For all locations worldwide

While all types of seed and plant material are now analyzed using state of the art equipment, the focus used to be on sugarbeet. Chemical Analytics is namely KWS’ oldest research unit. It has existed since the company was founded in 1856 and has kept on growing and growing, especially in recent decades. The laboratory now has an enormous portfolio of analyses and examines seed and plant samples from all KWS locations worldwide.

Among other things, it is only one of three labs in Germany to be certified for the Heubach test, a method for determining the amount of fine dust that can be produced by abrasion when treated seed is sown. In this way, both the quality of the seed and its environmental compatibility are analyzed.

“We can really cover a wide and diverse range in Chemical Analytics,”

Elke Hilscher

Criteria differ from country to country

However, the laboratory’s range of services doesn’t end there. Chromatography offers good insight into the diversity of analytics. Among other things, it examines active substances on treated seed for all KWS crops. There are a total of more than 140 chromatographic methods available to analyze over 1,000 combinations of insecticides or fungicides. That’s a real challenge, because the approval criteria and constituents for seed treatments vary around the world and require special testing depending on the country.


Chromatographic processes filter mixtures of substances by separating the different components from one another on the basis of their properties. After being separated, the components can be identified and their precise quantity determined. To enable that, however, chromatographic methods must always be linked with special detection methods. For example, mass spectrometers are used to identify and quantify individual components after separation on the basis of their specific mass and charge properties. Even the tiniest amounts of substances can be detected in this way. |

Chemical Analytics not only safeguards the quality of our products, but also supports research and breeding in developing new plant varieties. Among other things, determining plant metabolites may help here. Metabolites are intermediate or degradation products that arise as part of plant metabolism. Analyzing them can provide clues about how well a plant can handle different stress conditions, for instance. “Although we now know a lot about the genetic makeup of our plants, environmental influences also have a major impact on the expression of plant traits. That’s why examinations in the field and subsequent analysis of plant samples in our lab are particularly important,” explains Timo Hölscher, the head of the Chromatography team.

Chemical Analytics processes more than 300,000 samples a year.

The research unit has existed since KWS’ founding year.

Wide and diverse range

Metabolite measurements are a relatively new addition to the portfolio of Chemical Analytics. Establishing the analytical processes involved a lot of research work, but now breeders regularly use metabolite data to select sugarbeet or corn lines for tolerance to drought stress. As part of that, leaf samples are sent directly from the field to the laboratory in Einbeck and analyzed for different metabolites using chromatography. Measuring the quantity of individual substances in a cell enables conclusions about certain traits of the tested plant. For example, some amino acids react very strongly to drought stress – so they might indicate potential tolerance.

“We can really cover a wide and diverse range in Chemical Analytics,” states Elke Hilscher. “The results are very important, especially for our breeding and research, because they help our colleagues in selecting plants. In this way, we contribute to KWS’ strategic goals of making our plants more and more resistant and high-yielding.” |

The laboratory examines samples from all KWS locations worldwide.

Everything from A for amino acid to Z for zein is examined.

© KWS SAAT SE & Co. KGaA 2024