Project

Microorganisms - friends and enemies

Facts

Start 1. January 2009
End 31. December 2012
Funded by Foundation for Research Levy on Agricultural Products
In collaboration The Research Council of Norway

Microorganisms play a central role in the lives of human beings. Most microorganisms are harmless to humans, some can have positive effects on our health, while others cause disease.

Strategic research programme

Important themes in the programme "Microorganisms - friends and enemies" is food safety and quality, the use of microorganisms in the production of food, and the effects of microorganisms on human health.

Fighting unwanted bacteria

Many bacteria have a negative effect on food in that they deteriorate the food's eating quality or make it unsafe to eat. When microorganisms break down and deteriorate food, this gives increased food waste and wastage, which in turn has important financial and environmental consequences. In the past few years, attention has turned to the importance of bacterial resistance to disinfectants and their ability to grow as biofilm on production equipment. This makes the bacteria resistant to the measures we have to prevent contagion from raw materials. Staying ahead in knowledge of the demonstration, prevention and fight against bacteria is therefore an eternal battle. Some of the most important challenges in this programme will be to understand the unwanted bacteria's strategies to survive the constant new efforts put in to avoid contagion and bacterial proliferation in food. The programme will work with finding new and improved methods to fight bacteria that can cause contagion in food and to prevent them from proliferating in food.

Active use of lactic acid bacteria

Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are an important group of bacteria in food production. They are actively used in the production of fermented foods such as cured sausages and yoghurt, and some LAB have probiotic properties, ie. they have a positive effect on consumer health. The primary metabolism of LAB, the conversion of carbohydrates to acid, contribute to a great extent to the eating quality of fermented products, and are also important preventive mechanisms against pathogenic or deteriorating bacteria in a number of foods. The choice of LAB strain and processing conditions is decisive to reach the right eating quality, sufficient prevention of pathogenic bacteria and possible probiotic effect. This programme will search for basic knowledge on the metabolism of this group, in order to understand and control properties which contribute to efficient production and optimally tasty (starter cultures) and safe products (protective cultures). This will also involve the many positive properties these bacteria have been shown to have on human health (probiotic cultures). The programme will also delve into the effect probiotic bacteria have on human health, both alone and in cooperation with prebiotics, and which effect they have on the gut, the gut flora and the immune system.

Analysis of bacterial cultures

During the past few years, we have gained increased understanding of how microorganisms often live in complex, dynamic societies both in nature and in interplay with other living organisms. Unfortunately, our studies have been limited by the methodology of studying microorganisms is primarily developed with the purpose of studying them in monocultures or in order to define specific species. The survival and transfer of bacteria which cause disease through the food chain will to a great extent be influenced by what other microorganisms happen to be present. Insight into how the microorganisms mutually influence each other and how the composition and properties of the microbe community is affected by outer factors is important in order to be able to choose our strategies to ensure safe food with a long shelf life. There is an increasing awareness of how food affects the gut flora, and how this in turn affects health and disease. Recent research shows that bacteria play a role in lifestyle diseases such as obesity, allergies and type 2 diabetes and in how these diseases can be cured. The interplay of bacteria with the food we eat is an underestimated factor for nutrition and health. This programme will focus on developing tools in molecular biology and statistics to promote the understanding of the dynamics in bacterial societies.

Areas of application
The programme can give us knowledge which can be used to

  • develop and establish new strategies for the prevention of unwanted bacteria
  • improve food safety through optimising hygiene processes
  • optimise the use of starter cultures, protective cultures and probiotic cultures
  • develop functional products based on prebiotics and probiotics
  • understand the importance of bacterial flora to food related health and disease

 

Lactic acid bacteria are useful bacteria.

Lactic acid bacteria are useful bacteria.

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