Research project Understanding of multispecies biofilms in the food industry is indispensible to control biofilm related food safety and quality issues

In progress MULTISPECIESBIOFILM
Microscopic image of red slime with yellow blobs

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Main research question

Microbial contamination in the food industry constitutes an important risk for the safety and quality of food products. Despite cleaning and disinfection food contact surfaces often remain soiled with attached microbial communities called biofilms. These biofilms mostly contain different species which interact synergisticially, rendering them more resilient and harder to eradicate through routine cleaning and disinfection protocols. Most research up to now has been performed on single species biofilms which do not fully reflect the real situation. In this Marie Sklodowska Curie post-doc fellowship, interspecies interactions will be investigated between bacteria which have been previously isolated from food industries. This will enable to define the most optimal combinations of species for the formation of biofilms and how these species interact which each other.

Research approach

We examine interspecies interactions between dominant bacterial isolates from the dairy, meat and egg processing industries. Multispecies biofilms are made in the lab with different combinations of maximum 4 species in order to be able to select species combinations which produce the most biofilm biomass on stainless steel. In collaboration with KU Leuven, a biosensor based on impedance spectroscopy and heat transfer measurements will be used to follow the formation of these multispecies biofilms in real time. The interactions between these species will be investigated on gene expression level through metatranscriptomics. The biofilm architecture will be investigated through confocal laser scanning microscopy in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen. Finally, we show how these biofilms react to industrial cleaning and disinfection protocols which will be simulated in a bioreactor with attached stainless steel plates.

Relevance/Valorization

Multispecies biofilms often contain different microbial species which can contaminate the food product with spoilage enzymes, toxins, spores or vegetative cells amongst which also pathogens. As a result, a risk of food spoilage or food safety exists or certain components of the processing line (e.g. heat exchangers) can become affected through deposit of fouling or corrosion which can decrease efficiency or lifespan. This makes it very important to know the species combinations that pose the greatest risk for biofilm formation and how to remediate them optimally. This fellowship will also provide training in addition to research in order to enhance the career prospects of the foreign post-doc researcher, including communication, dissemination and exploitation activities. The results will be announced through lectures, social media and open access scientific articles.