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Food Bioscience: Food Cultures

Teagasc food research has a strong programme in areas relating to microbial cultures and fermentation. It exploits a range of modern molecular and ‘omic’ approaches to enhance both the sensory and nutritional quality of food. The programme is built on a long history of research on the microbiology of cheese manufacture and ripening. The cultures research aims to develop new and improved products through innovation in flavour, texture and functionality.

Fermentation, though one of the oldest technologies used for the preservation of food and development of key quality attributes of significance to the consumer, still occupies a central pillar in today’s food processing industry. In modern food processing micro-organism and their enzymes are exploited to modify food and ingredients in ways that would not be possible using traditional approaches.

cheese

Current research includes DNA based technologies are being employed to study the primary groups of starter cultures including:

  • Lactococcus lactis
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
  • Lactobacillus helveticus.

The complete genome sequence of L. helveticus DPC4571, a strain with significant flavour enhancing potential in cheese systems, has been completed and is currently being mined for genes and enzymes of commercial potential.

Many of the micro-organisms traditionally associated with cheese, in particular of the NSLAB group, have recently been shown to function as probiotics. This has stimulated a very active research programme focused on the identification of new probiotic strains, determination of their mechanism of action and their technological robustness during food manufacture.

Bacteriophage, are recognised as the main cause of starter failure during industrial cheese manufacture. Bacteriophage replication and host phage relationships are being studied using micro-array technology. In addition to these dairy related issues, the potential to exploit bacteriophage to control infection (phage-therapy) is being investigated.