Bioprocessing and Innovations for Food Biotechnology
Traditionally, fermentation processes were used to produce safe, high quality and stable foods with maximum yields and low cost. Although modern bioprocesses still seek to meet these objectives, our research expands the scope of traditional fermentation, by focusing on developing novel biotechnological approaches that produce beneficial bacterial metabolites to be used as bioingredients in minimally-processed and functional foods. We search for innovative solutions to produce bacterial biomass and metabolites using different fermentation strategies in batch, fed-batch and continuous processes. In particular, mixed strain fermentations are investigated, with the goal of exploiting positive interactions and harnessing trophic chains to produce multifunctional ingredients. Our projects include developing and optimizing technologies to cultivate fastidious microbes, especially strict anaerobes originating in the intestine. Finally, we also investigate downstream processing technologies, such as freezing and freeze-drying, for long-term stable storage of microbial products.
Novel fermentation technologies designed to produce live bacteria physiologically tailored to enhance survival under stress and achieve optimal functionality are studied. Such products expand the range of commercially available microbes with health-promoting effects, and also broaden the number of products in which probiotics can be used by enhancing viability of such cultures. To produce such strains, our research uses processes that apply sublethal stress during cell production. We also develop new technologies that use high cell density immobilized cell fermentations to enhance yield and productivity and to profile cell physiology for maximum cell viability at all steps and for functionality in the gut.
Several projects at the Laboratory of Food Biotechnology focus on optimizing scalable fermentations using food-grade microbes (mainly lactic acid bacteria) to efficiently produce multifunctional bacterial metabolites. Of particular interest are low molecular weight compounds with antimicrobial activities to be used for food preservation. Other beneficial functional metabolites include antifungal and texture-enhancing compounds (exopolysaccharides) that can extend shelf life and reduce wasting of bakery products. Fermentation studies remain essential in studying molecular pathways involved in metabolism of functional compounds, and elucidating their chemical structure and mode of action. Application trials with food products (dairy, meat, bakery) containing bioingredients are also conducted to investigate the functionality of such ingredients in complex matrices.