Dairy foods with digital bacteria

​Can fermented foods be used to amend one’s health through the gut microbiota? The international food company Danone collaborates with Chalmers to improve its dairy products.

The gastrointestinal tract is approximately seven meters long and contains about 1,000 different types of bacteria which together form the so-called intestinal flora, or microbiota. Most bacteria are good and help the body to stay healthy. But many researchers believe that the absence or presence of some bacteria, also could cause different types of diseases, obesity and perhaps even neurological disorders such as autism.

At the Department of Biology and Biotechnology, Professor Jens Nielsen and his team have been working for a few years to study and simulate the gastrointestinal bacteria. Not least, to find out how the bacteria interact with, and affect, each other. The group has developed mathematical models that uses digital bacteria, which allows researchers to carry out experiments in the computer instead of in the laboratory.
Digital experiments are easier, cheaper and quicker than actual laboratory experiments. For a couple of years, Chalmers has partnered with the global food company Danone to analyze data from their fermented products used in clinical trials. Danone wants to see how consumption of these products can promote health through the gut.

The researcher Parizad Babaei is running the project and explains that Danone has chosen five different bacteria that they want Chalmers to investigate.
– We look at and simulate how the bacteria work together during fermentation – if any bacterium is stronger and outgrows the others, if some bacteria are faster or slower than the others and so on. And thus we can investigate the potential interaction between these five bacteria with our “digital microbiota”, she says.

Professor Jens Nielsen is proud that Danone recognizes the possibilities with these digital bacteria and he is pleased that their cooperation also benefits both parties.
– The collaboration with Danone is an excellent example of how our systems biology competences can be applied and also gain detailed insight into production of fermented food products, but also how we can use these technologies to get new insight into the health effects of commercialized products, says Jens Nielsen.

So, through the work conducted at Chalmers in collaboration with Danone, the researchers get a greater knowledge of how the bacteria interact with each other and should be able to design products with bacteria that can compete with bad ones and shape more available space for good ones, with the aim to create the best conditions for a stable microbiota, faster recovery and a healthy life.

Published: Fri 16 Mar 2018.