Food fermenting microbes form the basis of many innovations in the food industry, and a range of ingredients are produced through fermentation, including vitamins, flavour components and texturisers.
Genome sequencing has become a routine exercise, Eddy Smid, senior scientist at NIZO told FoodNavigator.com. He described it as rather like taking an inventory of the constituent parts of bacterium.
Until now, however, the translation of genome sequence data into metabolic activities and functionalities of the fermenting microbes has been tricky; the development of food fermentation processes has been a matter of trial and error.
The new computer program, called the Metabolic Navigator, was developed with the Top Institute Food & Nutrition. It can predict functionality based on genome sequencing without even doing any work in the laboratory.
An example of a practical use is the prediction of conditions for cultivating the bacteria which result in the formation of specific fruity or malty flavour compounds – conditions that are very specific to the strain. It could also aid the development of starter cultures for cheese or yoghurt production.
"Every bacterium would create a different effect," Smid said.
The tool could help improve industrial and food-related fermentation processes, too. The Metabolic Navigator can provide an indication of how to maximise production of bacterial biomass. For instance, CO2 or nutrient limitation in the fermentation system can be easily identified allowing the operator to select new fermentation conditions that will increase biomass yield or boosts the productivity.
NIZO now has roadmaps of 15 bacteria in the Metabolic Navigator system. Some of these roadmaps are kept confidential since they are developed with customers based on proprietary genome sequences.
With basic bioinformatics expertise, the tailor made metabolic navigators can be used by the customers in their own research laboratories said Smid.
In May last year NIZO announced a collaboration wtih BCCM/LMG to give it access to a subset of the latter’s bacteria store, including strains of the genera Lactococcus, Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, Bifodobacterium and Streptococcus.
NIZO had previously held its own collection of food bacteria, but the addition of the BCCM/LMG bolstered their number considerably to around 3900. It includes cultures used in the production of dairy products and plant-based products - such as wine, vegetables and fruit - and probiotic bacteria strains that are recognised for their beneficial effect on immunity, gut health, and other health markets.