Industrial Microbiology (IMDO)
The research group Industrial Microbiology and Food Biotechnology (formerly Industrial Microbiology, Fermentation Technology and Downstream Processing; IMDO) has been created in October 1994. It originates from the subunit of Biochemical Engineering of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Industrial Chemistry. The research theme deals with 'Research and Development for a Healthy Diet'. The establishment of IMDO meant the actual start of research in food biotechnology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, which is nowadays one of the keystones of the university's research in applied biological sciences/bioengineering sciences. IMDO conquered a very specific niche in the field of industrial food biotechnology, i.e. the qualitative and quantitative (mathematical modelling) study of starter cultures (lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria, coagulase-negative staphylococci, bifidobacteria, and yeasts) with particular functionalities, within the area of food fermentation, food safety, and human health. IMDO specialised in (spontaneous) food fermentations, process control, and predictive microbiology. Research of IMDO focuses on the microbial ecology of spontaneous food fermentation processes, production of fine chemicals (organic acids, bacteriocins, exopolysaccharides, aromas) and enzyme activities for application in the food industry, both fermentative production processes and their downstream processing, and in situ production processes using functional, multiple starter cultures (bacteriocin-producing starters for cheese, sausage and sourdough manufacture, exopolysaccharide-producing strains for the production of yoghurt and other fermented milk drinks, aroma-producing starter cultures in cheese, sourdough, cocoa, and coffee fermentation). Human health-related topics encompass probiotics and prebiotics as functional foods (antimicrobial potential, underlying mechanisms, microbiological and technological aspects of commerical preparations). In general, the current research topics are: - Exploration of the species diversity and functional analysis (metabolite target analysis, transcriptome analysis) of traditional, artisan fermented foods (dairy products, meat products, sourdoughs, cocoa, vegetables, sour beers): food ecosystem biodiversity, taxonomy, new taxa, new molecules (metabolites); - polyphasic analysis of the population dynamics (culture-dependent and culture-independent) and metabolite kinetics of microbial food ecosystems; - selection of interesting starter cultures or bioprotective cultures, based on physiological and technological characterization of new, natural food isolates; - analysis of the interactions between fucntional starter cultures or bioprotective cultures and the food matrix, including elements from the background microbiota; - mathematical description of the behaviour (growth and product formation), functionality, interactions, and competitiveness of functional starter cultures (lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria, coagulase-negative staphylococci, bifidobacteria, and yeasts) and bioprotective cultures of lactic acid bacteria and coagulase-negative staphylococci (positive predictive modelling) in simulated food fermentations (milk, meat, cereals, cocoa, coffee) and/or modified-atmosphere-packaged meat products; - linking the species diversity of fermented foods, the microbial fermentation process, and the quality of the food product (food qualitomics); - relationship between milk quality and udder health concerning coagulase-negative staphylococci; antimicrobial potential of probiotic bifidobacteria and lactobacilli (molecular identification); - mechanistic elucidation of the bifidogenic and butyrogenic effects of inulin-type fructans as prebiotic substrates: (non)selective degradation, butyrate production, gas formation; - development and valorisation of new, functioal starter cultures, bioprotective cultures, and efficacious pro- and prebiotics; - development of industrial food fermentation processes (yoghurt, cheese, fermented sausage, sourdough, cocoa, coffee, water kefir) incorporating superior artisan quality and health-promoting characteristics.