After the establishment of the University of Agriculture in 1919, its activities were divided between two departments: economic and forestry. The Department of Economics (the predecessor of the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering, which was later followed by the Faculty of Agriculture) also included the Institute of Chemistry, which was founded in the same year as the University of Agriculture. Together with her successor, Mendel University in Brno, he is also commemorating the centenary of his existence this year. The founder and first head of the Institute of Chemistry became prof. dr. inž. Josef Knop.
The Institute of General Chemistry of Inorganic, Organic and Analytical Chemistry I provided, with the exception of a short interruption of activities during the occupation, the teaching of chemistry until 1951.
The year 1922 can also date the beginnings of scientific work in the field of chemistry at the University of Agriculture. The research activity was focused on antimony oxides, resp. to specify the relative atomic weight of antimony, later to redox indicators for analytical chemistry. Attention was also focused on the use of spectral analysis methods, especially spectroscopic analysis of dyes, the importance of which was fully appreciated in the following period. Already five years after the beginning of the research activity, prof. Knop Award of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences and Arts from the architect Wiehl Foundation. In the history of the university, prof. Knop also enrolled as an academic official; in the academic year 1925–26 he held the position of Dean of the Department of Economics, in the academic year 1932–33 he held the position of Rector of the University of Agriculture and in 1952–53 Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture.
During the liberation struggles, the premises of the institute were hit by a grenade explosion, almost completely destroying the spectral laboratory, whose activities date back to 1923. Thanks to a generous grant from the Ministry of Agriculture, the laboratory equipment was renewed in what was then Czechoslovakia. The spectroscopic laboratory also provided its services to clients from industrial companies. Thus, it was actually the first workplace within the University of Agriculture, which, in today’s terminology, carried out applied research.
In 1951, the institutes, which were close in their professional focus, were merged to form departments. Within the Department of Chemical Technology, the Institute of Agricultural Technology, the Institute of Lactology, the Institute of Fruit and Vegetable Technology and the Institute of Agrochemistry joined the institute, which now bore the adjective chemical.
In 1953, the two technological institutes separated, which became a separate department. The Department of Lactology moved to the departments of the Faculty of Zootechnics and the Department of Agrochemistry became part of the Department of Plant Production. The successor department was now called the Department of Chemistry. After the inclusion of biochemistry and physical chemistry among the separate subjects, two new institutes were incorporated into the department, namely the Department of Biochemistry (which was also briefly transferred to the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine) and the Department of Physics and Physical Chemistry.
After the departure of prof. Knop retired in 1957, the new head of the department became an associate professor, later a professor, RNDr. Karel Marek. Two years later, in connection with the establishment of a new Faculty of Business and Economics, the department moved to its organizational structure.
In 1959, the name of the department was changed to the Department of Chemistry and Physics. The division into three institutes was retained: the Institute of Chemistry, the Institute of Biochemistry, and the Institute of Physical and Physical Chemistry.
The chemical institute has the longest tradition. When the University of Agriculture was established, two institutes were designated for the basic field of chemistry, the Institute of Inorganic and Organic Chemistry, which was headed by the exceptionally appointed professor Dr. ing. Josef Knop, and the Institute of Analytical Chemistry led, again by an extraordinary professor, dr. ing. Rudolf Hac. The most important task of the Department of Chemistry was to provide teaching from the first semester of the new university. The highest priority was given to building adequate space for laboratory exercises. There were only two rooms with unsatisfactory capacity for general and analytical chemistry, which also had neither a gas connection nor a connection to the water supply. After two years of operation of the institute, however, the basic shortcomings were already eliminated, and the institute was equipped not only with its own furniture and devices, but also with a professional library with basic literature. After a year in Brno, Professor Hac is returning to his previous position at the Prague University of Technology, and the position of head of the Department of Analytical Chemistry has remained vacant. Subsequently, the institute was divided into the Institute of Qualitative Analytical Chemistry, which was affiliated to the Institute of General Chemistry, and the Institute of Quantitative Analytical Chemistry, affiliated to the Agrochemical Institute. Until the occupation of the Czechoslovak Republic, the Institute of General and Analytical Chemistry I remained in modest conditions in five rooms on the raised ground floor of the left wing of the main university building in Zemědělská Street 1. After the fascists arrived in Brno, it was closed, then moved to the premises of the Brno branch of Czech Technology.
The second of the three institutes of the Department of Chemistry and Physics was the Department of Biochemistry. After the inclusion of teaching biochemistry as a separate subject, the department provided its teaching both at the Faculty of Forestry and at both faculties of agriculture, ie the Faculty of Agronomy and Zootechnics. In addition, the institute also provided teaching of all chemical subjects with the exception of physical chemistry. His research was focused on methodological issues of potentiometric and chromatographic determination of L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C), monitoring its stability in solutions and detection in plant material with a focus on searching for apple varieties with a high content of vitamins for nutritional purposes. The institute has also developed several low-current devices, such as a high-frequency titration device, an automatic titration relay, which has also found industrial application. It also newly modified the type of tube polarograph or improved the properties of deflection laboratory potentiometers.
The Department of Physical and Physical Chemistry was founded in the study year 1950–51, when it was introduced as a separate subject in the teaching of physical chemistry. RNDr. Josef Žák, who first worked here as an external teacher. He was appointed associate professor for physics and physical chemistry. From 1954 he transferred from the Research Institute of Forage of the Czechoslovak Academy of Agricultural Sciences (ČSAZV) to the University of Agriculture. The research activities of the institute were focused on the development of reliable physical and physicochemical methods applicable for serial determinations of the content of trace elements in fodder stands and for serial determinations of the calorific value of feed in agricultural research, inspection and testing.
After the independence of the Institute of Physics and Physical Chemistry in 1962, an independent department of physics was established.
An independent department of biochemistry was established. The name of the current department was changed to the Department of Chemistry. The Jihlava department of the University of Agriculture was established, which also included the Jihlava Department of Chemistry, headed by Ing. Vojtech Stajgr. The common denominator of the cooperation between the two chemical departments was mainly teaching. The research focus of the Department of Chemistry followed up on the previous stage, especially the application of analytical methods to soil and biological material and the development of suitable methods for the determination of microelements in this material.
70s of the 20th century
As a result of organizational changes, the independent Jihlava department became a department within the Brno department, and together they provided teaching in Brno and Jihlava for all the then faculties of the school. After prof. Mark took over the position of head of the department doc. Ing. Lubor Vacek, CSc. During this period, the premises of the department were modified. Separate laboratories for teachers and research have been set up; a physico-chemical laboratory was established, laboratories for students were adapted, and the department’s library was given separate premises. The shift to the quality of teaching was the specialization of teachers in individual subjects taught across all faculties in full-time and distance learning. The research activity was focused on monitoring the degradation of feeds depending on the length of their storage and conservation used, monitoring the content of some elements and substances in forest ecosystems. The result was in many cases the development of suitable analytical methods, such as titration photometric determination of tannins (in forest soils), photometric determination associated with the distillation of volatile phenolic substances (in plant feed), etc.
Independent operation of the Department of Biochemistry (established in 1964 within the zootechnical branch of the Faculty of Agriculture), headed by an associate professor, later a professor, RNDr. Ing. Jiří Pavel, DrSc., Was completed in 1970. The department was abolished and incorporated into the Department of Anatomy and Physiology of Farm Animals, which then bore the new name of the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry of Farm Animals. The main tasks of biochemical research were to monitor the biochemical properties of livestock, especially blood proteins, enzymes and other blood components, to monitor the usability of biochemical tests for selection and processing of livestock properties and to evaluate the influence of agroecological factors on spring barley protein structure.
80s of the 20th century
In 1980, the field of biochemistry was transferred to the newly organized Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. This year, the department was transferred from the Faculty of Business and Economics to the Faculty of Agronomy. The department was headed by doc. Ing. Lubor Vacek, CSc. The department was divided into Brno and Jihlava workplaces, and consisted of approximately 23 employees. In the first half of the 1980s, she specialized in research, especially in the study of the influence of ecological conditions on biochemical and physiological systems of wild animals and also in the study of the influence of anthropogenic immissions on nutrient content in forest and grassland ecosystems. The end of the 1980s brought not only changes in society, but also in the management of the school and its organizational units. There was also a transformation of departments into institutes. The head of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was entrusted to prof. Dr. Ing. Jiří Pavel, DrSc., Who also at that time held the position of Vice-Rector for Construction and Development. During his tenure, the premises of the institute were renovated and two new laboratories for students were built. In the research area, the members of the institute focused on solving current ecological projects. The results of their work were well received not only within the domestic but also foreign scientific community.
90s of the 20th century
After the departure of prof. Pavel’s retirement, the department was headed by prof. RNDr. Vlastimil Kubán, DrSc. Prof. Kubáň used his experience from Masaryk University and stays abroad and was able to get the support of various grant agencies, respectively. providers of research funding. During his tenure, the institute focused mainly on the development of instrumental methods of analysis and their use. The research was focused on the identification and determination of natural substances in biological material (plants, animals) and in environmental components, on the determination of metal ions and anions of inorganic and low molecular weight organic acids and also on speciation analysis in environmental components.
ents, the pedagogical performance of the department also increased, which provided teaching for three faculties (Agronomic, Forestry and Wood and Horticulture). In addition to theoretical subjects, specialized subjects (such as special biochemical methods, ecotoxicology, environmental chemistry) and optional seminars were also accredited. The existing laboratories were modernized in several stages, and after the acquisition of the space vacated by the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Technology, two new ones were built. This made it possible to improve the substantially complete pedagogical process. There was also the development of doctoral studies.
Early 21st century
In 2004, RNDr. Petr Hrdlicka, CSc. (associate professor since 2006), who continued the concept of the previous leader. In this period, pedagogy developed, when the teaching focus of the institute was adjusted on the basis of changes in the accreditation of the study fields of the school. A seminar classroom was set up for 24 students with full teaching equipment. The number of employees of the institute gradually increased, which was reflected in several directions of research activity. Academic staff had considerable freedom in choosing their professional orientation. The group methodically managed by Professor Kubáně continued to develop analytical methods. We have succeeded in developing equipment for combined techniques of flow injection analysis and capillary electrophoresis (FI-CE) with a non-contact conductometric detector (C4D) and on-line combination of liquid chromatography with atomic fluorescence spectrometry (HPLC-AFS). The second direction was the development of gas, and especially liquid chromatography, and the associated development of extraction methods. A group led by Bořivoj Klejdus (now Prof. RNDr. Bořivoj Klejdus, Ph.D.) was formed. Primary and secondary metabolites of plants have been the subject of scientific interest. For this direction, specialized laboratories equipped with instrumentation corresponding to the quality and accuracy set by the requirements for the then equipment of instrumental laboratories were gradually built. The third direction was the development of electrochemical methods in the frontier field of chemistry with biochemistry and molecular biology. He was adopted by the upcoming young generation represented by, for example, RNDr. Vojtech Adam. The interest was focused on the study of the interactions of heavy metals and proteins and electrochemical biosensors. All three directions were also developed with international participation. The primary output was a number of publications in internationally recognized (impacted) journals and conferences. To support the research, modernization of research laboratories was carried out, a nitrogen source (as a protective atmosphere in the devices) was secured by the construction of a tank for liquid nitrogen with a content of about 4000 kg. This period of the institute’s life was rather preparatory for further massive development, especially of research activities in the current period.
2012 – present
In 2012, doc. RNDr. Vojtech Adam, Ph.D. (later professor) became the Head of the Institute. In 2012–2019, the institute was further restructured so that the new structure would meet research challenges as well as an increase in the number of employees, which at the beginning of 2019 exceeded the magical value of 100. The basic vision of research, development and innovation Research groups focused on identified key areas, such as bioanalytical chemistry, algal and plant biotechnology, and last but not least, experimental microbial and animal biochemistry and biology, are working to fulfill it.
The first area, bioanalytical chemistry, deals with research and development of detection methods and platforms for the analysis of a wide range of different analytes, from heavy metals such as mercury, lead or cadmium, through low molecular weight metabolites to macromolecular biomarkers of serious diseases. Equally important is the focus on non-invasive diagnostics in medicine and the development of appropriate tools using not only electrochemical but also optical (spectrophotometric and fluorescence) detection techniques and fluorescence imaging methods. The unifying element of this key area is smart nanomaterials, not only with regard to their use for the above-mentioned purposes, but also for their characterization and study of interactions with biomolecules.
The second area is research and development of advanced micro- and nanomaterials, not only for the above-mentioned purposes, but also for the societal need to study their interactions with biomolecules in vivo. In addition, the institute also develops materials having antimicrobial, antitumor or, conversely, properties that support the growth and development of both plant and animal organisms.
Furthermore, attention is paid to algal and plant biotechnologies, which are focused on the study of low molecular weight primary and secondary metabolites and their interaction with epigenetic mechanisms (especially small non-coding RNA and methylation) in different environmental conditions. A separate research topic in this area is the study of the impact of nanotechnologies on the growth and development of plants and microalgae.
The last area is the design and testing of materials for the targeted transport of chemotherapeutics in vitro and in vivo, including materials capable of transcytosis across the blood-brain barrier. The mechanisms of chemoresistance of tumor cells and oncometabolites influencing the aggressiveness and success of cancer treatment are studied with attention focused on increasing the effectiveness of the proposed treatment procedures. An equally important part is several microbiological laboratories dealing with the search for alternatives to antibiotic drugs, the study of complex microbiomes, but also the potential use of microbial enzymes in environmental applications.
The pedagogical activity of the Institute of Chemistry and Biochemistry is focused on both undergraduate and doctoral studies. The teaching of chemical subjects is provided for students of three MENDELU faculties: at the Faculty of Agriculture for six bachelor’s study programs and ten study fields, three follow-up master’s study programs and four study fields, at the Faculty of Forestry and Wood for six bachelor’s study programs and seven study fields. Faculty of Horticulture for two study programs and three study fields. Teaching is conducted in the form of lectures, practical laboratory exercises and seminars, in compulsory, compulsory-elective and eight elective subjects.
From the point of view of pedagogical activities, the department is most involved in the programs of Chemistry and Food Technology and Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in both bachelor’s and subsequent master’s studies. Teaching in these programs is continuously enriched with the results of the above-mentioned research directions. Primarily, from these study programs, about 15 applicants also apply for the postgraduate program in Agricultural Chemistry, which is directly related to the submitted field.
100 years of the history of the Institute of Chemistry and Biochemistry have meant a number of changes and restructurings. Wishes for the next 100 years can be defined in such a way that all further interventions in structure and management are beneficial and that the Institute of Chemistry and Biochemistry continues to develop as it has done so far. This requires enthusiastic and motivated employees and students who are the real soul of this workplace.
The text was prepared on the basis of the manuscript of doc. RNDr. Petra Hrdlička, CSc. Brief history of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, University of Brno (Brno 1986). Thanks to doc. Hrdlička for kindly lending the manuscript, valuable comments, revision of the text and its completion. The writing of the names of the organizational units of the university is based on contemporary customs and spelling rules of the time.