Biotechnology opens up numerous opportunities for the food industry. The targeted use of biotechnological methods can, amongst other things, help reduce the quantity and number of unhealthy ingredients in foods as well as degrade allergenic substances. Genomic research and targeted breeding also greatly facilitate progress in agriculture. Food biotechnology therefore contributes significantly to saving resources, optimising harvest yields and producing better foods.
Raw fruit and vegetables are popular and healthy, at least as long as they are not contaminated with pathogens such as those that caused the EHEC outbreak in 2011 where sprouted foods were identified as the source of the E. coli outbreak. Researchers from the University of Hohenheim are looking into how the risk of consumers being infected by ready-to-eat vegetables and salads can be minimised.
The increasing demand for functional foods clearly shows that the role of food is no longer just to meet an essential need. Food that offers additional nutritional benefits is becoming increasingly important for example food that is able to prevent or treat diseases. This kind of food is therefore interesting for consumers the food industry and the healthcare sector alike. Products based on plant raw materials are particularly in demand due to the variety of natural health-promoting ingredients. In the spotlight are plants such as quinoa which are rich in gluten-free protein magnesium iron and unsaturated fatty acids.
What is the best way to bring together biology, chemistry, physics and the engineering sciences? Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jörg Hinrichs, director of the Department of Animal Foodstuff Technology and head of the Dairy for Research and Training at the Institute for Food Technology at the University of Hohenheim knows how: become a food technologist!
Boehringer Ingelheim announced the launch of its corporate venture capital fund the Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund BIVF. The BIVF aims to invest in Biotech and Start-up companies that provide ground-breaking therapeutic approaches and technologies to help drive innovation in medical science.
The Institute of Data Analysis and Process Design IDP at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences ZHAW has developed intelligent software to analyse thousands of gene expression products simultaneously and automatically. This software considerably reduces the workload. The IDP has recently become a member of BioLAGO e.V. and specialises in statistical data analysis modelling and optimisation of processes and systems.
Computer analyses of protein folding have shed light on the evolution of early life on earth. Researchers from the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies and the University of Illinois, USA, have examined the folding speed of the domains of proteins and found that there has been a trend towards the optimisation of protein folding since their appearance 3.8 billion years ago. 1.5 billion years ago, more complex domain structures and multi-domain proteins emerged and caused a ‘Big Bang’ of proteins.
Prof. Dr. Andrei Lupas is a molecular biologist and director of the Department of Protein Evolution at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Developmental Biology in Tübingen. He became fascinated by the incredible complexity of proteins early on during his scientific career. His work focuses on the use of laboratory and computational methods to solve the question as to how a simple amino acid chain becomes a protein ‘nanomachine’. Lupas and his fellow scientists have developed model systems to study the folding of proteins and their transition into complex systems. Lupas regards the repetition of the basic building blocks as an essential principle without which the complexity of proteins would not be possible.
After quite a long vacancy the directors post of the Institute for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at the University of Ulm has finally been filled. Marcus Fändrich and his team moved into the laboratories and offices of the new life sciences building on the Oberer Eselsberg Ulm University campus in November 2012. Fändrich fills a gap in the Ulm Bioregions biopharmaceutical education activities as he will not only be teaching biochemistry undergraduate students but also masters students on the pharmaceutical biotechnology course that is run in cooperation with Biberach University of Applied Sciences. Fändrich is specifically interested in the formation and structure of amyloid fibrils.
Dr. Malte Drescher and Dr. Daniel Summerer, two chemists from Konstanz University, have developed an innovative method for studying protein structures using magnetic labels inside cells. The method is based on non-canonical magnetic amino acids that are directly incorporated into the protein as it is biosynthesised in the cell. A patent has been filed for the method, which could potentially lead to major progress in the field of structural biology.
Proteins are the active part of cells. They recognise sequences transport nutrients and information as well as getting rid of waste. Proteins that go from one side of a membrane through to the other serve as transporters and channels and help molecules across membranes. Dr. Thomas Becker and his colleagues from the Institute for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Freiburg are studying these complex processes. They are particularly interested in how transmembrane proteins are integrated into the mitochondrial membranes of yeast cells the protein complexes involved and whether the lipid composition of the membranes plays a role in this process.
Allergic reactions to certain types of food can, in extreme cases, lead to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. People with peanut allergies are particularly at risk. Allergic reactions can also gradually develop into chronic intolerances such as coeliac disease, for example. The causes of food allergies nearly always originate in early childhood.
Biotechnology has since found its way into the food industry and in fact into the entire value creation chain from raw material production to food processing to the sale of the final product. There are many ways in which biotechnology can contribute to better food products. These include the use of enzymes and microorganisms as well as in the production of food supplements and to improve analytic tests.
Dietary supplements containing different types of algae claim to be rich in minerals that help improve mental acuity and concentration. While many of these products are neither useful nor harmful, products containing blue-green algae have raised serious concerns. Consumers have repeatedly complained about pain and discomfort after consumption. A study carried out by toxicologist Prof. Dr. Daniel Dietrich from the University of Konstanz has now tested all algae products available in Germany for contamination with toxic substances and the results have raised serious doubts as to the suitability of such algae products for human consumption.
A protein in the nucleus of liver cells is produced in greater quantities when we go hungry; it limits fatty acid uptake and adjusts the metabolism in the liver. However in people with metabolic disorders, the abnormal expression of this protein (GADD45β), which was previously only known to be involved in the regulation of cell division and DNA repair, leads to a dysregulated fat and sugar metabolism. Scientists from the DKFZ and Helmholtz Zentrum München have now found out what happens at the molecular level when we go hungry and why periods of food deprivation may promote health.
Esslingen-based BioTeSys GmbH is contracted by its clients to determine the bioactive potential of substances and substance mixtures of foods and dietary supplements. Substances are tested whether or not they have a positive effect on human health using a range of chemical analyses, cell-based tests and clinical trials.
Control is good dual control even better. Blind trust in the food industry is not always the best idea. Dioxin EHEC and the horsemeat scandal show how vulnerable safety of the food chain is in a globalised world and also highlights the continuously changing challenges facing food inspectors. Food inspection aims to protect consumers from potential harm caused by food and against fraud committed by the industry.
Dietary supplements support a well-balanced diet and lifestyle. Anoxymer GmbH develops health-enhancing plant extracts that contribute to healthy nutrition. With its expertise in using raw materials from South America for the development of botanical extracts and the distribution of its products in Asia, the company is a competent partner in the “Bioactive Plant Foods” network.
Genetic fingerprinting is a well-known technique used for paternity testing and in forensic science. However, the technique is also used in the field of agriculture. Molecular genetics makes it possible to develop and apply new research and breeding methods to the field of fruit production in order to improve production and quality standards. Dr. Haibo Xuan from the Competence Centre for Fruit Production (KOB) at Lake Constance has been working for eight years on the application of molecular genetics tools for the diagnosis of fruit diseases.
Consumers – in other words, all of us – rightly expect to be supplied with healthy, high-quality and safe foods. However, over the past few years, food scandals have frequently hit the headlines. They are brought to light in laboratories that have a huge arsenal of methods and procedures to analyse food. Although the media would have us believe otherwise, the vast majority of foods are safe and very rarely hazardous to human health. This is in large part due to the food industry which has a vital, and more importantly, economic, interest in the analytically-based quality control of the food it sells.
Green genetic engineering comprises a plethora of methods that enable the production of genetically modified (i.e. transgenic) plants by introducing extra genes, which are often foreign to the species into which they are introduced, into a plant genome. The number to be introduced can vary from one single gene to several genes. For example, in order to establish a new and foreign metabolic pathway in a particular plant, several genes need to be introduced. The first field trials with transgenic plants were carried out in the USA in 1986 and the worldwide cultivation of transgenic plants has increased year on year ever since.
Guaranteeing the quality of wines is becoming increasingly important so that they are able to compete in the international market. However, the quality control methods currently used are often rather time-consuming and costly. In addition, it is difficult to detect microbial grape contaminations that might jeopardise the quality of the wines. Researchers at the National Training and Research Institute for Viticulture and Horticulture in Weinsberg, Germany, are now working with researchers from the University of Hohenheim on the development of a new method to overcome these difficulties and to make the assessment of wine quality more reliable.
In Europe the GM contamination threshold must not exceed 0.1. The Agricultural Technology Centre Augustenberg LTZ in Karlsruhe is accredited by the International Seed Testing Association ISTA to carry out international cooperative studies on GM seed analyses in cooperation with ISTA.
In the not-too-distant future, food analysts hope they will be able do more than just detect mycotoxin traces and determine the concentration of individual nutrients such as vitamin C. Their ambition is in fact much broader: “We would like to understand the nutritional and physiological effect of food,” said Prof. Sabine Kulling from the Max Rubner Institute in Karlsruhe. As with other life sciences areas, metabolomics is seen as a key technology for research into issues relating to the quality and safety of food.
Therapeutic proteins play an important role in modern medicine. Correct glycosylation patterns are therefore fundamentally important for producing effective glycoprotein-based therapeutics. Dr. Marina Rubini from the University of Konstanz explores ways to alter the properties of proteins using non-natural amino acids for the post-translational site-specific attachment of carbohydrate groups. She uses the glycoprotein hormone erythropoietin (EPO), which is one of the most common prescription drugs worldwide, as a model.