Industrial Microbiology and Food Biotechnology

Functional starter cultures for improved food quality, safety and healthiness

The research of the Research Group of Industrial Microbiology and Food Biotechnology of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (IMDO) deals with the qualitative and quantitative study of the species diversity, community dynamics, and meta-metabolomics of fermented food ecosystems (fermented dairy products, fermented sausages, sourdough, cocoa, coffee and other fermented fruits, fermented vegetables, acidic beers, and water kefir). Further, the genomics, microbial physiology and modelling of fermentations with food-grade microorganisms, i.e. lactic acid bacteria (LAB), acetic acid bacteria (AAB), coagulase-negative staphylococci (CNS) and yeasts are studied. Also, the human colon fermentation process involving bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and propionic acid/butyric acid-producing colon bacteria is studied in view of the bifidogenic, butyrogenic and/or propionogenic effects of inulin-type fructans and arabinoxylans. The fundamental aims of these studies are to unravel, by means of state-of-the-art technologies, why certain microorganisms prevail in certain microbial ecosystems and how their competitiveness and functionality in these ecosystems can be explained biochemically and molecularly. The ultimate purpose of these studies is the development of new, functional starter cultures, co-cultures, bio-protective cultures and health-promoting cultures for a controlled and/or steered fermentation process of milk, meat, cereals, cocoa beans, coffee berries, raw vegetables, tropical fruits, sour wort, etc., with respect to food safety, food quality (organoleptic properties such as texture and flavour) and authenticity, and the development of new functional food ingredients (in casu pro- and prebiotics). IMDO occupies a unique position in industrial food biotechnology research in Flanders and abroad in that it possesses the competences to combine field experiments, isolations, identifications, functionality studies (focusing on quantitative analyses and including modelling expertise) and applications in one laboratory facility, which gives the research group a particular competitive advantage and freedom-to-operate.