Binary mixtures of model systems consisting of the antibiotic ampicillin with either Escherichia coli or Staphylococcus auresu were subjected to pyrolysis mass spectrometry (PyMS). To deconvolute the pyrolysis mass spectra, so as to obtain quantitative information on the concentration of ampicilin in the mixtures, partial least squares regression (PLS), principal components regression (PCR), and fully interconnected feedforward artificial neural networks (ANNs) were studied. In the latter case, the weights were modified using the standard backpropagation algorithm, and the nodes used a sigmoidal squsahing funciton. It was found that each of the methods could be used to provide calibration models which gave excellent predictions for the concentrations of ampicillin in samples on which they had not been trained. Furthermore, ANNs trained to predict the amount of ampicilin in E. coli were able to generalise so as to predict the concentration of ampicillin in a S. aureus background, illustrating the robustness of ANNs to rather substantial variations in the biological background. The PyMS of the complex mixture of ampicilin in bacteria could not be expressed simply in terms of additive combinations of the spectra describing the pure components of the mixtures and their relative concentrations. Intermolecular reactions took place in the pyrolysate, leading to a lack of superposition of the spectral components and to a dependence of the normalized mass spectrum on sample size. Samples from fermentations of a single organism in a complex production medium were also analyzed quantitatively for a drug of commercial interest. The drug could also be quantified in a variety of mutant-producing strains cultivated in the same medium. The combination of PyMS and ANNs constitutes a novel, rapid, and convenient method for exploitation in strain improvement screening programs. (c) 1994 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.