Plants, which are the primary source of food and animal feed, are not only affected by diseases during their growth but also following harvest and subsequent storage. Especially fungi that can efficiently degrade organic matter cause substantial losses of this valuable resource. Such losses can be prevented if adequate countermeasures are implemented. A recent study demonstrates how microbial markers can be used for the early detection of disease progression. Reliable biomarkers can be specifically targeted in the future to reduce food waste and to improve the storability of agricultural goods.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are not only restricted to clinical environments, nor do they always pose an immediate danger for humans. Various environmental niches are occupied by complex microbial communities that also include members that can carry one or different antibiotic resistances. The plant microbiome often harbors highly competitive microorganisms that can shield of pathogens and contribute to the host’s health. In their latest study researchers from acib-partner TU Graz have focused on antibiotic resistances in a common salad plant and found that the indigenous enterobacterial community contributes to the highly interesting profile.
Sugar is not only a widely used food ingredient but can also be used as possible starting point for high-added-value products. The European research consortium of CARBAFIN explores different ways to make use of sugar beet biomass: the sugar components glucose and fructose are starting points for the production of important ingredients for not only food/feed but also cosmetics. Besides, fructose can be further converted to a platform chemical, which is applied to the production of bioplastics, biofuels or biopolymers, as well as resins. In other words, CARBAFIN people sweeten our lives!
Microorganisms play a crucial role for the health and well-being of higher organisms. Host-specific microbial communities of varying complexity form the so-called microbiota. It can consist of several thousand microbial species and includes bacteria, archaea and fungi. These microorganisms exchange a plethora of metabolites with their hosts and can modulate their functioning. Such interactions equally affect humans, animals and plants. This provides us with novel strategies to counteract various diseases and increase the resistance of higher organisms towards abiotic and biotic stresses by modulating the microbiota.
The contamination of chicken eggs with fipronil led to a Europe-wide outcry in 2017. Although this specific case was not in compliance with current regulations, other treatments of hatching eggs with hazardous substances are still common. Contaminations of the eggshells with potentially animal-pathogenic microorganisms require fumigation with toxic chemicals for efficient breeding. Researchers evaluated an alternative decontamination method that is based on bacterial metabolites and showed that it is as efficient as conventional methods.
Enzymes are the tiny helpers of industrial biotechnology. Despite their microscopic size, they need to be tough and diligent because we want them to catalyze a broad range of reactions, ideally with the speed of light for ever after. In reality, however, many enzymes are like sensitive creatures, who need most careful attention and special treats to get their nicest behavior. Otherwise they might fade away like a tender flower in the blinking sun… and send the biotechnologists into terrible trouble. One strategy to find frugal enzymes is to look at thermophilic organisms. They sometimes harbor a treasure of more stable proteins because they are used to withstand somewhat unfriendly conditions such as high temperatures.
Some plants protect themselves with cyanide against voracious beetles, caterpillars or cattle, who want to nibble their delicious looking leaves. Everyone knows that cyanide is really toxic: In Agatha Christies murder stories the murderers take their victim’s breath with ‘sparkling cyanide’: a bit of innocent looking white powder potassium cyanide mixed into sparkling wine. Plants produce this poison with the help of enzymes when the plant is chewed.
The mankind flies to the moon, explores the universe – but still on earth there is much more unexplored matter than we are aware of. Bioprospecting is a discipline, where new products and processes are discovered based on natural resources. The big ideas and innovations for industrial processes are right in front of us – we just have to observe nature and – which is the difficulty – recognize them.