Dr Sjoerd van der Meulen: from PhD to entrepreneur

As a PhD fellow, Dr Sjoerd van der Meulen dived deeply into RNA regulation of Lactococcus lactis: a starter culture bacterium for the production of buttermilk and various types of cheese. His PhD work kick-started the entrepreneur in him and he recently began his own business cultivating microgreens. “The scientific approaches I learned have proved invaluable”, he says.

Van der Meulen is an enterprising and energetic scientist, always looking to the future. After obtaining his MSc in Molecular Biology he started working for Bioclear. However, two and a half years later, he decided to return to university. “I felt I needed rather more fundamental knowledge in my backpack and enjoyed doing research.”

The molecular biologist successfully applied for a PhD post at TiFN, to research the role of regulatory RNAs of a cheese bacterium. Even before completing his thesis he was offered a Post-doc position in his research group Molecular Genetics. “They urgently needed to strengthen the team and I had the right expertise for the job, and didn’t hesitate to accept their offer”, he explains. Not surprisingly, completing his PhD took a bit longer than normal for a PhD. “My wife and I also started a family with two children during this period, which did not really help”, he smiles.

Keeping on the ball
Van der Meulen’s working weeks were long: he returned to the lab many evenings and weekends to care for his ‘bugs’. But he enjoyed his PhD process very much. “It was so interesting to do research in such a large consortium”, he says. “The regular meetings with industry and research partners keep you on the ball; you become aware of how your research is and could be applied, and learn how to present your results to specific, different, target groups.”

Van der Meulen investigated the transcriptome landscape of Lactococcus lactis, an important model organism for the dairy industry, as it is used as a starter culture for the production of buttermilk and (cottage) cheese. “I used various sequencing techniques to identify new RNA elements, but also measured the production of well-known transcripts”, he explains. For some of these novel RNAs, their function and biological role was assessed in the regulation of gene expression.

Optimizing fermentation processes
His research delivered insights that the dairy industry can use to optimize fermentation processes. Van der Meulen also developed, together with the team’s bioinformatics specialist, a software programme that allows the analysis of huge amounts RNA sequencing data in a radically short time. The programme, called T-REx, is available online and has already been used widely by researchers all over the world.

Van der Meulen is now focussing on his company, Groen Smakelijk!, which he already registered in 2017 and, step-by-step, built up since then. “I produce healthy, tasty and sustainably-grown microgreens, and deliver them to restaurants, catering services and stores”, he explains.

Cultivating vegetables
For the scientist-entrepreneur, who is still involved with the University of Groningen as a member of the VentureLab North program, it was a logical move forward. “I have a great passion for food and always grown my own vegetables and mushrooms”, he explains. “In addition, when an established organic sprout grower asked me to join forces with the goal to eventually take over his company, I jumped at the chance.”

The expertise and skills Van der Meulen developed during his time as a PhD fellow underpin his entrepreneurship. “I approach the health benefits and safety of microgreens scientifically. This helps me to assess the data and literature I gather, and to translate it into appealing product marketing messages.”

Want to know more about Van der Meulen’s work? Click here.

New light on the importance of micronutrients

Kidney transplant recipients, and women in general, could be the beneficiaries of vitamin B6 supplementation. This is one of the conclusions from research by TiFN PhD fellow Isidor Minović, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 

As a pharmacy graduate, Minović has always been interested in the balance between the benefits and risks of vitamin supplementation. To learn more about vitamins, he pursued a PhD in which he conducted clinical research towards vitamins, in particular vitamin B6.

Vitamin deficiency
“Many people use regular vitamin supplements to improve health and prevent disease”, Minović says. “However, for many patient groups, the occurrence and potential clinical implications of vitamin deficiency are unknown.” As such, the benefit of vitamin supplementation in, for example, people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, is unclear, and people might be putting themselves at unnecessary risk of vitamin toxicity. “The first step towards safe vitamin supplementation is to identify populations at risk of vitamin deficiency and investigate the potential consequences of it”, he explains.

Therefore, to investigate the role of vitamin deficiency in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, Minović performed an extensive quality assessment and meta-analysis, on previous studies that focussed on the combination of vitamins, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. “We concluded that the evidence from existing studies does not justify the often high micronutrient dosages of these patient groups.”

Possible benefits
In other populations, Minović found indications that being insufficient in certain vitamins, notably B6, could be clinically relevant. “Data from several large cohort studies, including the general population-based PREVEND study, indicated that people low in vitamin B6 have an increased risk of long-term mortality due to cardiovascular diseases. This applied to both kidney-transplant recipients and women in general”, says Minović, who published his results in the renowned American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Before any concrete recommendations can be made, intervention studies involving vitamin B6 supplementation should be carried out”, he stresses.

Post-PhD career
Minović values his PhD experience. “I learnt much about how to evaluate scientific literature, and how to present results in a structured manner; in papers but also at congresses and in meetings with colleagues”, he explains.

In January 2018, before he had completed his PhD, Minović had already begun working, as a clinical chemist, at the University Medical Center Groningen. Upon completion of his additional training in 2022, he will be responsible for the quality and evaluation of the diagnostic results produced by a clinical laboratory. The PhD fellow managed to complete his PhD in July, several months earlier than expected. “My new employer generously allowed me time to finish my thesis; luckily, I had only one more paper to write”, he says.

Follow-up research
Inspired by his PhD, Minovic already has ideas for follow-up research. “I would like to set up a series of intervention studies around vitamin B6 supplementation, once we have secured the necessary budget.”

Want to know more about Minovic’s work? Click here.

“My PhD helped me define the direction of my career”

Nutritionist Imre Kouw enjoyed her internship at Maastricht University, on muscle mass and nutrition with aging, so much that she decided to do a PhD in this field. Six years later, in December 2018, she defended her PhD thesis titled “Nutritional strategies to support muscle maintenance in clinical populations”.

After gaining a Bachelor in Nutrition and Dietetics at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Kouw felt she wanted to go deeper into the field of nutrition sciences. So she started a two year Master’s at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Societal value
“When I was almost finished with my study in Sweden, I contacted Prof. Luc van Loon at Maastricht University to apply for an internship during the 2nd half of my Master’s”, she says. “I was impressed with the innovation and societal value of his research: exploring causes and solutions to age-related muscle-mass loss in the elderly. His lab is one of the very few where stable isotope approaches can be used, in humans, to investigate the uptake of dietary amino acids in skeletal muscle tissue.”

After her internship in Maastricht, Kouw became a research assistant before applying for the first PhD vacancy in van Loon’s research group. “I loved the applied research with human volunteers and patients, and I wanted to learn everything I could about muscle-mass maintenance in ageing and disease.”

High-protein snack
Five or so years later and Kouw has her PhD. She demonstrated that a 40- gram protein snack, before sleeping, improves overnight muscle-protein synthesis in older people. “The effect was potentiated by physical exercise, which increased muscle-protein synthesis by 30 percent”, she stresses. Her study was the first using orally-ingested protein drinks instead of infused enteral nutrition and the data was collected via state-of-the-art methodologies. “We included 60 healthy older males who slept in our laboratory for one night, drank specifically produced labelled milk before sleep and underwent two muscle biopsies – while we stayed up all night to take hourly blood samples (without waking them up!).”

The PhD fellow also investigated protein consumption in older hip-surgery patients. “During just six-days in hospital these patients lost a significant 3-4 percent of skeletal muscle mass”, she says. “In addition, their protein intake was substantially lower than recommended, mostly because they left 30-35 percent of their food untouched.”

Optimizing hospital meal services
Kouw’s research provides food manufacturers with new opportunities for product development and hospitals with ways to optimize their meal services – for example by supplying protein-rich meals and supplements and protein-rich snacks before patients sleep.

The PhD project was also very valuable in terms of my personal development, Kouw stresses: “I learnt many new things, from how to teach and supervise students and to lead in-depth discussions with nutrition experts, how to present my research results and translate them into clinical practice.” “I gave many presentations to practitioners, dieticians, physiotherapists and nurses, which motivated me to conduct further research that can be directly translated into clinical practice and support nutritional guidelines for patients and health-care workers.” This gave her a direction for her future career. “Eventually I would like to be involved in clinical research in an academic institution and develop new food and nutritional strategies in hospitals, ideally combined with my work as a dietician.”

Boosting skills
But first, some sun. “I have accepted a two-year Postdoc position at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, with Prof John Hawley. I will investigate protein metabolism in obesity and study the metabolism of other macronutrients”, she says. “Working in a different research group (and country) will further boost my research skills and work experience as a scientist, and will be beneficial when applying for personal research grants in the future. Eventually, I am looking forward to returning to the Netherlands in a couple of years, ready and qualified for a senior position at an academic hospital.”

“Outcomes of nutrition research are seldom black and white”

Blood glucose responses are not the only way to evaluate the health value of bread, pasta and other starchy food products. This is the key message from research by TiFN PhD fellow Coby Eelderink, who defended her thesis on September 19 at the University of Groningen. Her work provides leads for the development of bread products with specific health benefits.

Carbohydrates are often characterized by how fast, or slow, they are digested. Research indicates that slowly digestible carbohydrates may be more beneficial in preventing chronic diseases such as type 2-diabetes. Experts usually distinguish slow and fast carbohydrates according to the increase in blood glucose level they cause after consumption. “However, in our research, we found that consumption of slowly digested carbohydrates did not necessarily lead to a lower blood glucose response”, says Eelderink.

Beneficial response
In a study with healthy volunteers the PhD fellow observed that, in contrast to what was expected, slow release of glucose from a pasta meal resulted in a glucose response similar to bread (known and observed to be digested faster). “But the slow glucose release resulted in reduced production of the hormones GIP and insulin, leading to a more gradual uptake of glucose from the blood into the tissues”, she stresses. This explained the similar glucose responses, and can be seen as a beneficial postprandial response.

Eelderink found that consuming bread with a compact structure, for example flat bread, can generate a similarly-beneficial metabolic response. “Such a response is also, as described in scientific literature, seen after consumption of rye products and can also be expected from, for example, bread prepared with less yeast, or sourdough instead of yeast.”

Innovative stable-isotope approach
Eelderink, who has been working for a few years as a post-doc scientist in the Department of Internal Medicine/Nephrology at the University Medical Center Groningen, is very appreciative of her experience within TiFN. ”I learned a lot about collaboration in a multidisciplinary team, and my contact with industry partners has given me a broad perspective on our research”, she says.

Clear message
The scientist enjoyed the combination of lab work and research with human volunteers. “I had a broad variety of tasks to do”, Eelderink says. She found writing scientific papers at first quite a challenge though. “It took some time to translate my findings into a clear key message”, she says. “Outcomes of nutrition research are seldom as black and white as you might like them to be.”

Eelderink has already applied the stable isotope-approach in another study, at the University Medical Center Groningen, investigating the health effects of dairy products in healthy volunteers. She is now busy with another research project, focusing on renal patients. “I really enjoy the challenge of setting up and implementing a trial, and the cooperation with the volunteers.”

Want to read more about Eelderink’s research? Click here.

TiFN delivers 200 PhD’s to the food sector in 21 years

12 October 2018 – Today, TiFN delivers its 200th PhD candidate. Mariya Tarazanova, like all these other young innovators, was trained to bridge the gap between science and industry. The thesis that Mariya Tarazanova defended today at the University of Groningen provides insights and tools that allow the food industry to improve existing or formulate new, fermented, products without changing production processes.

 Tarazanova is one of the first scientists in the world to investigate the underlying molecular mechanisms of lactic acid bacteria interacting with food matrices. As a member of TiFN, the food technologist made her first acquaintance with advanced microbial genetics, bioinformatics, and cloning software. “I learnt a lot about the theory, and about translating the outcomes into daily industry practice”, she says. With such a focus on microscopic mechanisms, Tarazanova found it difficult, at times, to step back and look at the bigger picture. “My supervisors and industry partners helped me by asking questions that needed deep reflection.”

 For 21 years TiFN has been leading the way towards effective public private partnerships to create impact for food science and industry. TiFN, formerly known as WCFS, was founded in 1997 as a Technological Top institute by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and industrial partners with the aim to strengthen the impact of scientific research for the food industry. 21 years later TiFN has helped hundreds of scientists to produce important, breakthrough innovations that are now the basis for the development of a healthier and sustainable food products worldwide. This emphasizes the success and importance of the original approach of joint programming of science impact for societal issues as an alternative to current open tendering programs.

Tarazanova is the 200th TiFN PhD fellow. On this occasion, managing director Ronald Visschers presented her a trophy: “We are extremely proud of the work of Mariya. it is a wonderful example of how TiFN shapes projects: in close consultation with industry and science, the PhD student works on industrially relevant subjects in a scientifically excellent way.”

Today, TiFN is a thriving international community of industrial and academic partners. The experts join in the well-established TiFN way of working to define and execute public-private research that are valuable to the food industry. Mariya Tarazanova is a perfect example of a PhD candidate that is reaping the fruits of the TiFN platform. In the past years, an average of 10 TiFN PhD candidates defended their thesis. Visschers: “We only have been able to do this with the ongoing financial support of industry and government, in particular the ministry of Economic affairs. Over the past 20 years, they have invested seriously in our platform. The investment pays of every day now in science, in a healthier and more sustainable food chain and in experts that can lead the way between scientific excellence and industrial relevance.”


Dr Peter van Dael, TiFN Board: “The Dutch have made working together into an art.”

5 October – Nutrition sciences and their ultimate applicability to daily life should always go hand in hand, according to Dr Peter van Dael, Senior President Nutrition Science & Advocacy at DSM Nutritional Products, who joined the TiFN board in August 2018. “The challenge is to find the optimum balance between research with short-term benefits and long-term fundamental science.”

Van Dael had only been at DSM for a few months when TiFN invited him to take up the position from his (DSM) colleague Krijn Rietveld, who passed away earlier this year. “Selecting and bringing together companies, research organizations and goals, to meet societal needs, is a challenge I welcome and value”, he says. “I did not have to think for very long before accepting the offer.”

The Senior President, who spent ten years of his career at Mead Johnson Nutrition in the USA (see text box for biography), was not that familiar with TiFN, but already knew a number of experts in the field. “I worked as a medical director with the (originally Dutch) company Royal Numico, in France, and collaborated with several research organizations in the Netherlands, including Wageningen University & Research, NIZO food research, TNO Nutrition and RIVO, the Dutch organization for Fisheries Research”, he illustrates.

Collaboration spirit
Van Dael’s first impressions of TiFN are very positive. “This initiative is a beautiful example of the entrepreneurial and collaborative spirit abundant in this country”, he explains. “Working together has always been a Dutch strength; now ‘we’ have taken it to the global level.”

Collaboration is essential to achieving the quality and applicability this research demands, according to Van Dael. “It allows you to work with top researchers around the world, bringing together the best talent, state-of-the-art research facilities and the latest insights in the field. It also increases the social and industrial relevance of the work”, he explains. Collaboration within the TiFN collaboration is just as important. “Insights, values and approaches should be shared – and carried – by all our industry and research partners, in order to create a strong and solid basis for the future.”

From insight to application
Strengthening and extending the TiFN network is an important focus for the new board member, though not the only one. “I want to identify even more opportunities to translate TiFN insights into daily life applications”, he stresses. “The challenge is to find the optimum balance between long-term fundamental research – enabling radical industrial and societal innovations – and short-term benefits.” This will require a more-pragmatic approach, with realistic expectations of research time-frames and budgets.

Van Dael, who has already invited TiFN’s Managing Director Ronald Visschers to meet his DSM colleagues in Basel, is looking forward to the board meetings. “Together we will make great strides, strengthening and extending TiFN’s global influence.”

Dr Peter van Dael is Senior President Nutrition Science & Advocacy at the DSM Nutritional Products, based in Basel, Switzerland. He is responsible for developing, translating and executing DSM’s global nutrition science strategy. Prior to joining DSM, in August 2017, he worked for Mead Johnson Nutrition (Evansville, Indiana, USA), Nestlé Nutrition (Vevey, Switzerland) and Royal Numico (Rueil-Malmaison, France). Van Dael obtained an MSc in Human Nutrition at the University of Lausanne and successfully completed PhDs in Philosophy, and Food Chemistry at the University of Antwerp, where he also obtained his MBA.

AgriFoodTop Symposium 2018: ‘Emotion, key to the consumer’

1 October – Emotion, key to the consumer was the theme of the AgriFoodTop Symposium 2018, held June 6 in the Dutch city of Zwolle and hosted by Top Sector Agri & Food and TiFN. Over 300 representatives of industry, academia and government attended the event, finding inspiration and meeting new and existing contacts.

“The emotions a food product evokes have everything to do with the confidence you have in it”, stressed neuroscientist and behavioural researcher Erik Schoppen in his key-note lecture. “When we are free to choose, almost always we go for a well-known brand, simply because we are familiar with it and, to some degree, trust it.”

Buying a particular brand is also a statement. “You do not just buy coffee at Starbucks, you buy an emotion, a feeling. It is the brand with which you connect, not the product. And consumers are willing to pay for that.” Schoppen explained that it is important for food producers to connect with their consumers. “Confidence in a brand arises in a split second, and more increased insight for consumers into the chain can lead to more confidence.”

A sustainable and healthy choice
The second speaker, TiFN’s Managing Director Dr Ronald Visschers, deepened our understanding of how to support consumers to make healthy and sustainable choices when facing the bewildering complexity of the health and nutrition authorities’ ‘jungle’. “Where do you get your information on health and sustainability? From your parents, the store manager, the doctor or the Voedingscentrum (Dutch Nutrition Center)?”, he asked the audience. “The reality is that we do not know who to turn to for the right advice on healthy and sustainable foods.”

Offering insight into the choices a consumer makes in a particular setting, Dr Gerry Jager (Food-Evoked emotions: How to measure and model them and what do they add to liking?) and Dr Betina Piqueras Fiszman (The role of context in consumers’ responses) gave the audience an overview of their research.

200 decisions per day
Jager, who has also investigated the effects of packaging and product colour, explained that consumers make about 200 food decisions per day, each in a split second. Colour seems to play an important role in choosing a product. “We prefer ‘the real work’, think of sweet, salty or fatty products”, she explained. “And colour appears to have a signalling function.” The darker the colour, the greater the perceived fat content of the product. Red evokes expectations of sweetness, and consumers rate red products as sweeter than non-red products of identical sweetness.

Piqueras Fiszman’s research showed that contexts clearly influence how the product is experienced. “The more the product and its context have in common, the more-positive are consumers’ feelings about the product.”

The event continued with a series of parallel sessions, with the first series focussing on TKI Agri & Food’s five key themes: Consumer and Society, Climate Neutral, Healthy & Safe, Circularity, and Smart Technology. The second series examined the latest developments in agrifood: improving food production sustainability; meat from bull calves, roosters and goats; and opportunities in international markets for small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

Final Ecotrophelia
The day closed with the Dutch final of the eco-innovative food creation competition Ecotrophelia, in which four student teams battled-it-out for a ticket to the European final. Team Panggies from graduate school Van Hall Larenstein was the winner of the Dutch final, with their veggie pancake mix. In October they will travel to Paris to represent the Netherlands at the European final.

Couldn’t make the symposium or would like to revisit the presentations? Click here.

First TiFN Retreat to optimise ways of working

14 September – TiFN has been a leading partner in food research and innovation for more than 20 years. One of our strengths is our strong community of leading experts. We pay a lot of attention to the professional development of our project leaders, team members and staff and invest in our way of working. We value the experiences that our project members acquire during the projects and we constantly look for ways to further improve ourselves using those experiences. Therefore, we have taken the initiative to organize the first TiFN Retreat. During the Retreat we will internally discuss our way of working and try to find improvements in order to deliver even better results.

The TiFN Retreat is open for invitees only.

“Reading between the lines”

Resident in internal medicine and TiFN PhD Ruud Kootte completed his research next-to a fulltime hospital job; intense years, but with a huge reward. “We were the world’s first to demonstrate, in randomized controlled intervention studies, a causal link between intestinal microbiota composition and human metabolic processes,” he says. On June 8 this year Kootte successfully defended his thesis at the University of Amsterdam.

‘Poop’ (or more precisely microbiota) transplantation is receiving increasing attention in the scientific and medical world. It has elicited positive results in the treatment of Clostridium difficile infection in humans. However, research into obesity and metabolic syndrome remains limited to mice studies. “In our research we have made the translation from animal to human”, says Kootte.

Significant effects
Kootte and his colleagues were the first to study, in randomized controlled intervention studies, the effects of microbiota transplantation on metabolic processes in humans. They collected faeces from lean, healthy young men and mixed the intestinal bacteria that were present with water. They delivered this cocktail into the small intestine of 25 obese middle-aged men with early-stage diabetes. Half of this group received the cocktail once; the other half a second dose after six weeks. There was a third placebo group of thirteen men. “The two groups receiving the lean microbiota showed a significant reduction in insulin resistance”, says Kootte.

Better-targeted therapies
According to Kootte, the work indicates new directions for follow-up studies on the use of intestinal microbiota in a more-targeted way; for example, in combination with a diet, or as a probiotic. “Another approach might be dietary supplementation with short-chain fatty acids and other beneficial compounds produced by intestinal bacteria.”

Looking back on almost eight intense but rewarding years as a PhD fellow, Kootte recalls: “Often I found myself spending eight hours with a volunteer doing measurements. This situation created a strong bond between scientist and volunteers. Along with the volunteers, Kootte’s colleagues were a source of inspiration. “Working with people with such different backgrounds, from microbiologists to hard-core lab analysts, frequently surprised me with the variety of valid interpretations of measurement outcomes”, he says.

Doing research was an eye-opener for the young internist-to-be. “As a doctor you are at the end of the research process, waiting for new medicines or treatments to be launched onto the market”, Kootte stresses. “Now I know just how much and how complex is the advance research.’” Thanks to his experience as a scientist Kootte now reads scientific publications with a keenly-critical eye. “I am able to read between the lines because I know what is involved in setting up clinical trials, and the challenges.”

Another milestone
Kootte would like to continue doing research. “But I also want to pass another milestone: qualifying as an internist, by the end of 2020.”

Want to know more about Kootte’s work? Click here.

6 June: AgriFoodTop Symposium

On June 6th the AgriFoodTop Symposium will take place. TiFN is co-host of this event. The central theme is “Emotion, the key to the consumer”. What are the results of the research projects funded by the Top sector Agri & Food (including some TiFN projects) in the past few years? How did the results benefit society?

Programme and registration

PLEASE NOTE: The language of the day is Dutch.

Vacancy project leader Regenerative Farming

A science-based outline of a potential regenerative-farming system in the Netherlands, combined with actionable transition scenarios, are the key deliverables of the newest project in the TiFN portfolio, Regenerative Farming. The four-year project, involving a broad range of partners from the private sector and knowledge institutes, will receive €2.5m funding from Topsector Agri&Food and the private sector.

For this project TiFN is searching for an experienced project leader, who will lead the new ‘regenerative farming’ project in 16-20 hrs per week, seconded from the current employer or as a freelancer. The project is planned to kick-off in September 2018, and will run for four years until 2022. More info


New project: Regenerative farming

A science-based outline of a potential regenerative-farming system in the Netherlands, combined with actionable transition scenarios, are the key deliverables of the newest project in the TiFN portfolio, Regenerative Farming. The four-year project, involving a broad range of partners from the private sector and knowledge institutes, will receive €2.5m funding from Topsector Agri&Food and the private sector.  

From complying with the Paris Climate Agreement’s net zero (human induced) greenhouse gas emissions commitment, to the circular and regenerative use of nutrients and soil, as described in the (Netherlands) National Raw Materials Agreement, the Dutch agricultural sector faces significant challenges on the road to meeting its long-term goals for sustainable food production. “Over time the sector needs to shift towards a production system with a neutral or positive impact on climate, soils, water and biodiversity”, says Wouter-Jan Schouten, Theme Director Food-Chain Sustainability at TiFN. “Current studies focus on specific areas or disciplines and aim to reduce negative impacts, but we are lacking research that takes an integrated systems perspective, with the aim of achieving positive impacts.”

Research strategy
Seeing this need for a systems approach, TiFN defined Regenerative Farming as a key direction in its research strategy for the coming years. “We have brought together eight research and industry partners who are committed to investing in this challenging project”, says Schouten. Partners include FrieslandCampina, Royal Cosun, BO Akkerbouw, Commonland, Wageningen University & Research, the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development (Utrecht University), the University of Amsterdam and Het Groene Brein.

Bridging the think-do gap
The project has five work packages: they include creating an integrated, contextual outline for a revised Dutch agricultural production system (by 2050); co-creating – together with arable farmers and dairy farmers – best practices in regenerative production, and shaping robust, quantified scenarios for transitioning to a regenerative production system at national scale. “Based on a thorough analysis of the technological, social, economic and policy barriers between the existing system and a regenerative system, we will develop actionable transition scenarios that can bridge the think-do gap”, Schouten illustrates.

The theme director is proud of the new public-private partnership. “We have brought together partners with the will and the potential to establish large-scale systemic change. Moreover, we have gathered a broad and diverse scientific consortium, embracing disciplines that include the political and social sciences, agro-ecology, agro-technology and economic research.”

For Schouten the project marks the beginning of a significant transition. “I hope that, within a few years, we will have consensus about what constitutes a future agricultural system with a neutral or positive impact on climate, soils, water and biodiversity, and that we will have created clear opportunities for action for establishing such a system. This will be crucial to ensure future value growth of the agrifood sector via regenerative production methods that positively impact both people and planet.”

The project is planned to kick-off early September 2018.

Field of hay bales. Harvesting at the end of the summer.

“New tools for selective breeding”

18 April 2018 – TiFN PhD fellow Sabine van Engelen spent quite a few hours in cow sheds, ensuring the sensors she installed did their job: measuring cows’ breath methane levels. “We were surprised with the difficulty to gather the data needed to predict methane emissions”, she says. 

Dairy farming produces vast volumes of the greenhouse gas methane, which is produced in the rumen of dairy cows and emitted via the breath. Selective breeding could be used to reduce these particular emissions. “It is, however, difficult to make quantitative measurements of a volatile component like methane”, says Van Engelen. “So we focussed on relative methane emissions: for example, does Bella 3 emit more methane than Bella 34?”

Three indicators
The PhD fellow used three indicators for methane emission: methane emission predicted with milk fatty-acid levels, breath-measured methane emission, and methane emission predicted with milk mid-infrared spectra. “Together, these indicators explained approximately forty four per cent of the total variation in methane emission”, says Van Engelen. The DNA of the cows contributed to between 3 and 44% of the variation found. “This implies that the indicators can be used for selective breeding targeted at reduced methane emission.”

Dusty cow-sheds
Collecting the huge amounts of data needed to draw these conclusions was not easy, stresses Van Engelen, who obtained her MSc in Animal Sciences at Wageningen University and worked as a research assistant, at the Animal Breeding and Genetics Department, before joining TiFN. “Breath-measurement sensors had to be installed in cow sheds throughout the Netherlands”, she says. “A dusty environment is not really suitable for highly-sensitive sensors: we got used to asking farmers to ‘wiggle the connectors’ to get the sensors working again, or actually go and repair them ourselves.”

Sensors were installed in the milking robot above the feed trough and had to perform 10-day continuous measurements in order to gather enough reliable data. “Sometimes it took months, at just one location, to collect enough data; at one point I was serious doubting if I would ever finish my PhD”, she smiles.

Speaking the same language
It took Van Engelen five years to complete her PhD. “It was so instructive” she says, “working with people from so many different backgrounds. Every discipline has its individual perspective, but we learned to speak the same language.” Breeding specialists, for example, usually study large numbers of animals, while microbiologists often use only four cows – but go into much more detail.

Van Engelen is now working as a data scientist at YOR Innovation, a company that creates sustainable innovations in agriculture around the world, from India to Africa. “The knowledge I gained, at TiFN, about sustainable agriculture is turning out to be very useful, as are my improved professional interpersonal skills. When there is an issue to be solved I know precisely how to approach it”, she illustrates. Van Engelen continues to benefit from the networks she built up during her PhD. “I encounter TiFN ex-colleagues, in different settings. This opens doors and facilitates the set-up of new partnerships.”

Want to know more about Van Engelen’s work? Click here.



“Dealing with challenges makes you grow as a scientist”

17 April 2018 – It took quite some time and energy before TiFN PhD fellow Marcela Fernández had her advanced high-throughput microscopy scratch assay up and running. But she succeeded. She used it to study the influence of oral bacteria and saliva on wound healing, and to predict what happens when an individual does not brush his teeth for two weeks. On March 16 this year, Fernández successfully defended her thesis at Wageningen University.

Imagine going on a two-week hiking trip in the mountains and forgetting to bring your toothbrush. What would happen to your oral health? Would you be in greater danger of developing gingivitis? With just a few drops of your saliva Fernández can predict how the ‘ecosystem’ in your mouth will develop. “If there is an increased proportion of Selenomonas sputigena in your saliva, you are likely to suffer a stronger inflammatory response. If Veillonella dispar is predominant, you might be among the lucky few with improved oral health”, says the Costa Rican scientist, who obtained her MSc in Medical Biotechnology at Wageningen University in 2012.

Exploring saliva
Fernández did not need to go on a hiking trip to find the answers. Instead, together with a number of other PhD fellows, she conducted a two-week clinical study at the ACTA (Academic Centre for Dentistry Amsterdam) research labs – one of the scientific partners in the TiFN Oral Health project. Sixty-one volunteers agreed to abstain from all oral hygiene activities during the trial period, and had their saliva tested regularly.  

Fernández developed and optimised an automated high-throughput scratch assay  connected to a mathematical model. “The aim was to measure metabolite levels in saliva over time, and link them to re-epithelialization – an essential component of wound healing – in the gums”, she explains. Setting up the testing procedure was not easy, she stresses: “I was the only one in our project team working with high-throughput microscopy, so I had to learn all about it and start up the procedure by myself.”

Fernández succeeded in identifying the metabolite signatures of 10 metabolites, which she validated via re-epithelialization experiments in the lab. “Using these signatures, we correctly predicted the re-epithelialization capacity of the remaining 242 saliva samples in the study”, she says. “We also discovered that increased re-epithelialization capacity was related to increased mucosal damage.”

Diagnostic tools
TiFN’s industry partners welcomed the insights and the new testing protocol with enthusiasm. “They believe the outcomes contain potential for the development of new diagnostic tools”, says Fernández, who is excited that her work is valued by the industry. She looks back very positively on her time as a TiFN PhD fellow. “I enjoyed working in a team, and the challenges I had to face made me a better scientist”, she stresses.

Team work
Fernández is now working as a post-doc scientist at the Host-Interactomics Department of Wageningen University, investigating cell lines and organoids. “I am in collaborations with research partners in many different countries, and team work, just as at TiFN, is crucial for success.”

Want to know more about Fernández’s work? Click here.



TiFN and ZonMw present Delta Plan Nutrition Research to Dutch ministries

5 April 2018 – Today, the Delta Plan Nutrition Research was presented to the directors of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. The Delta Plan provides the framework for the themes and research questions upon which the Netherlands should focus in order to develop groundbreaking innovations. Innovations that will lead to a healthy and sustainable supply of food products that the consumer will want to eat.

The Delta Plan Nutrition Research framework identifies the themes and knowledge questions to which the Netherlands should deploy resources to realize breakthroughs. The Plan calls for significant improvement in the coordination and prioritization of nutritional research in the Netherlands. A more coherent and integrated research policy is needed to increase the impact of nutritional research.

The three main themes of the Delta Plan

  1. Sustainable food and sustainable nutrition: the Netherlands should invest in the development of a framework to assess the sustainability and health characteristics of (ingredients of) food products. Research into how we can optimally use soil, water and raw materials must also be given priority, as should increasing the availability of healthy and sustainable products in shops.
  2. Nutrition and behavior: more knowledge is needed about how to make healthy and sustainable choices self-evident. Knowledge and insights about the determinants of food choice and eating behavior must be translated into effective interventions and policy measures. It is important to understand how (existing) interventions might reinforce each other.
  3. Nutrition and health: the Plan advocates research, into the relationship between nutrition and health, that addresses the entire spectrum from prevention to treatment. This requires more knowledge about the effects and mechanisms-of-action of diet in the prevention and treatment of diseases. This will need large-scale, long-term intervention research and fundamental studies. The added value of a personalized-nutrition approach to general dietary guidelines also merits research.

Rob Beudeker, Theme Director Nutrition and Health, was closely involved in the development of the Delta Plan: “Several Dutch research institutes and universities are among the world leaders in nutrition research. Joining forces will lead to real solutions for environmental, societal and health problems that are linked to nutrition. The Delta Plan is the first step to achieving optimal coordination and prioritization.”


TiFN projects impress Fromageries Bel delegation

4 April 2018 – We were happy to receive a delegation of our valued partner Fromageries Bel last week. Fromageries Bel has been a TiFN partner for some years and currently participates in two TiFN projects around food structuring and taste perception. Members of these two projects enthusiastically presented their work and impressed the delegates with the level of science and collaboration in the projects. 

The partner company was represented by Hubert Mayet (Executive Vice President Manufacturing and Technical Operations, Research and Innovation), Chantal Cayuela (Vice President Research & Innovation), Benoit Goldschmidt (Principle Senior Researcher) and Cecile Renault (Research Director). In addition to the TiFN representatives, the delegates met with Wageningen UR representatives Dr. Raoul Bino and Prof. Dr. Louise Fresco. During the visit Dr. Marcus Stieger and Dr. Marcel Meinders presented the projects’ results and, at several locations across the campus, a number of PhD students showcased their research.

The delegates were impressed by the research project and also by the facilities at Wageningen University & Research. Hubert Mayet expressed how the visit had convinced him that their investment in the TiFN projects was worth every euro. Together with the delegates new opportunities for cooperation were explored: Chantal Cayuela: “We reviewed the major ongoing projects and that convinced us that we have selected the right ones for us. Thanks to a clear explanation of the broader scientific context, by TiFN and Wageningen University & Research, we were able to look forward to what could be our next priorities.”

Fromageries Bel is a family owned company that specialises in developing and manufacturing affordable, high-quality, brand-name cheeses that are enjoyed around the world. Bel has 30 iconic brands including La Vache Qui Rit, Babybel, Leerdammer, Boursin and Kiri.




TiFN PhD fellow Roland Hangelbroek: “A PhD kick-starts your career”

13 February 2018 – 

A curiosity about the scientific and societal impact of the research motivated Roland Hangelbroek to (kick-)start his career with a PhD at TiFN. The nutritionist defended his thesis – on the molecular assessment of muscle health and function at Wageningen University.

“Working towards my PhD gave me substantial knowledge on programming and machine learning”, says Hangelbroek, who graduated with an MSc in Molecular Nutrition & Toxicology at Wageningen University, before joining TiFN. “It also challenged me to improve my soft skills, for example in project management, presenting and writing”, he continues. “TiFN provided the perfect environment to practice and evolve, especially via the regular expert meetings and opportunities to follow a variety of courses.”

Hangelbroek and his colleagues are the first scientists to make a detailed investigation of the metabolome and gene expressions in human muscle tissue. “The aim of my PhD project was, by leveraging the sensitivity and comprehensiveness of transcriptomics and metabolomics, to reveal the mechanisms and processes that contribute to the effects of age, frailty and physical activity” he explains. Data were collected among young and, both healthy and frail, older volunteers.

Personalized nutrition

The PhD candidate applied modelling and machine learning techniques to develop a predictive model. “The gene expression data gave an excellent impression of lifestyle factors, for example whether someone consumes enough protein, or how much physical activity one does”, says Hangelbroek. “This has provided promising leads for the development of personalized nutrition.”

Significant differences between frail and healthy older adults were seen in both gene expressions and the metabolome. “The differences were similar to the differences between healthy young men and healthy older adults, suggesting that frailty presents itself as a more pronounced form of aging, somewhat independent of chronological age”, says Hangelbroek. The age and frailty related differences in the transcriptome were partially reversed by resistance-type exercise training.

Defining the key message

The PhD candidate valued the industrial and societal relevance of his project. He also felt inspired by the expert meetings with TiFN partners. “Discussing my research approach and results with people from different backgrounds, with such a depth of experience and expertise, helped me to define and sharpen the key messages of my work.”

Hangelbroek is applying his TiFN ‘learning’ every day in his new role as a data scientist at the Dutch water company Vitens. “I investigate how to detect and identify substances in water that originate from humans, such as drug metabolites and pesticides. I also look at how to detect leaks and contaminations in our water-supply network; research that greatly benefits from modelling and machine learning.“

Want to read more about Hangelbroek’s research? Click here

Krijn Rietveld deceased

29 January 2018 – Today, we received the sad news of the sudden and unexpected death of Krijn Rietveld. We express our sincere condolences to his family and friends.

As from mid-2016, Krijn was a board member of our TiFN foundation and since last December he was chairman of our board. He was eager to fulfill this role to the best of abilities. Together we were full of plans to shape the future of the Institute. Krijn was inspiring to us all and stimulated the values TiFN represents with much enthusiasm. He considered this role as a new challenge in his very rich career. Krijn’s cooperative yet decisive personality made him an outstanding chairman. He had a keen eye for complex situations and managed to find the right solutions quickly. We also experienced Krijn as a warm personality who was open to everybody. We are deeply saddened that we can no longer experience his cordial  support, and that we have to miss him as a dear colleague and friend. We sympathize with the grief of  and express our empathy to his Krijn’s family and friends who will miss his wonderful and special personality.

On behalf of the other current and former board members and the staff of TiFN

Ronald Visschers Managing Director


Former TiFN programme director Willem de Vos receives royal recognition

25 October 2017 – Former TiFN programme director Professor Willem de Vos has received the Order of the Netherlands Lion for his contribution to science, in particular, his work in biotechnology.

De Vos received the award from the mayor of Wageningen at a ceremony celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Microbiology chair group at Wageningen University. The mayor referred to De Vos as one of the most highly respected microbiologists in the world. De Vos is credited with countless scientific breakthroughs which he has managed to transform into innovative applications in biotechnology. Over the years he has picked up some major research awards, including the NWO’s Spinoza Prize and the EU’s ERC Grant, and has been described as the Netherlands’ most enterprising researcher, not least for the 25 or so patents held in his name and his founding or various start-ups.

De Vos is Head of Projects and Research at NIZO, Professor of Microbiology at Wageningen University, and Academy Professor of Human Microbiomics at the University of Helsinki. Between 2000 and 2007, De Vos was programme director at WCFS, the precursor of TiFN. During that time he made a significant contribution to the development of the institute and initiated many prestigious projects.



Smooth bite for all

21 October 2017 – Since February last year, six PhD students of Wageningen University have been investigating how eating and drinking behaviour is influenced by age, gender and ethnicity and how this influences sensory perception. Some of the PhD projects aim to elucidate the role of oral physiology and food bolus properties in eating behaviour and sensory perception in different consumer segments.

The PhD candidates are involved in the ‘Smooth bite for all’ TiFN project. Markus Stieger (Wageningen University) is the project leader: “Many foods that are highly liked are composed of multiple components with considerably different mechanical properties, for example cookies filled with cream or a slice of bread with cheese. The mechanical contrast between the components might lead to contrasting texture sensations, which have been suggested to enhance palatability of foods. Texture contrast can make generally well-liked foods even more liked. Mechanical contrasts can be caused by inhomogeneity in food structure at different length scales. The combination of components with contrasting mechanical properties in composite foods results in complex oral food breakdown behaviour and dynamic texture perception. Our current understanding of the sensory perception of those composite foods is limited.”

The project started last year and the first promising results have been obtained. Stieger: “With the trending topics of healthy, ageing population, growing markets in Asia and personalized nutrition, effective food texture design for target consumer groups is required. Based on insights generated by the project, food industry can develop products that are targeted towards specific consumer groups such as the elderly.”


A radical approach to measuring and communicating health effects

21 October 2017 – Empowering the food industry to provide healthy nutrition, tailored to the individual needs of people across their life span, is the driving force behind TiFN’s research within the Nutrition and Health theme. “We are developing a radical approach to measuring and communicating health effects”, says Theme Director Rob Beudeker.

Around the world, obesity continues to increase, yet many people have poor diets: too much fat, sugar and salt; too little fibre, vitamins and minerals. To date, efforts by government, industry and society to reduce obesity have had minimal impact. Nutrition and lifestyle intervention campaigns attract just a few consumers, and food manufacturers find it almost impossible to get health claims approved, for example for probiotics to support gut health. “What, why, how and when people eat, depends on many different factors, such as age, lifestyle and socio-economic status. This makes food-consumption behaviour difficult to predict”, explains Beudeker.

Long-term effects
Moreover, nutrients often have various, minor, long-term health effects that result from interaction with other ingredients present in a food or diet, and these can differ between people. “For this reason, randomised, controlled trials – mandatory in healthclaim applications – often show no effects”, he says. “And when they do have a measurable effect it is seen in only around twenty per cent of the population.”

Yet another disadvantage is that nutritional health effects can take a long time to manifest. “That we need to change consumer behaviour is clear. But who is likely to respond to a message such as reduce your sugar intake now and avoid the chance of getting diabetes in twenty years?”, illustrates the Theme Director. The good news is that, thanks to rapid developments in technologies such as sensors and wearables, it will soon be possible to measure the direct effects of nutrition – reliably, quickly and non-invasively. “This will enable consumers to adapt their nutrition to their needs”, says Beudeker.

Comprehensive and personalised
TiFN’s Nutrition and Health research continuously anticipates such developments, using a comprehensive yet personalised focus. The multidisciplinary scientific structure of the programmes within this field, allows for addressing diet quality on the one hand, and the individual, whole-life needs of people on the other.

The first programme, Nutrient balance and attractive foods, will develop a methodology to make healthy choices easier and improve consumer appreciation, based on the Nutrient Balance Concept – a new metric that reflects the overall nutritional quality of foodstuffs, diets and meal plans. “Representatives of both academia and industry have long been calling for such an approach”, explains Beudeker. “You can imagine it as a nutritional lingua franca, facilitating communication between manufacturers and consumers, and making the healthy choice the easy choice.”

The second programme, Nutritional impact on specific health aspects, has been established to obtain, amongst other goals, more understanding of the link between microbiota composition and biomarkers related to immune and mucosal health, at all age points. “This will increase the chance of health claims being approved and provide leads for optimising agespecific gut-health interventions”, says the Theme Director.

The third, Effective nutrition for you is dedicated to the development of effective, personalised coaching in nutrition and lifestyle. “The research will increase our understanding of individual responses to changes in diet and lifestyle, and provide insight into what motivates consumers to make and sustain healthy changes”, says Beudeker. “An important target is glucose metabolism, extensively studied in earlier TiFN research. The programme is also developing new research methodologies, focussed on assessing individual time series as an alternative to conventional, randomised, controlled trials.”

People, profit, planet
In order to be really successful, TiFN’s industrial partners must educate people about appropriate aspects of diet and lifestyle. Then, as consumers, people can make the right choices, instore or online, from both a health and a sustainability point of few. Industry can only make continued profits if they demonstrate that they care about the people consuming their products, and the impact their products have on the planet. Beudeker: “We will provide sound data that ensures industry gets more business opportunities, whether by communicating about healthy diets, personalised nutrition, or specific health aspects such as beneficial gut bacteria, and be in a position to take early advantage of emerging markets, trends and technologies.”


Editorial In Touch 2: A warm welcome!

21 October 2017 – It has been only 7 weeks since I started as the director of TiFN.  I have not yet met with all the people that are at the heart of this institute. Many of you are new to me but some are familiar or even old friends. But every encounter, from informal chat to attending a PhD defence, makes me proud of this wonderful institute. It is my ambition to establish a thriving project program portfolio and secure a good future for TiFN as the most renowned organizer of public private partnerships for the food industry.

I believe TiFN has three unique assets that can make this happen:

TiFN has a proud heritage: During the 20 years of its existence hundreds of PhD’s, technicians and scientist have learned new skills in our projects. Our work resulted in even more scientific papers and patents. We gained experience in conducting excellent science with industrial relevance and our methods for organizing the work, interacting with our stakeholders, safeguarding the confidentiality and securing the IP have solidified in what we call the “TiFN way of working”.  I believe this provides a sound basis for our future success and we will have to continue to update and improve on our skills.

TiFN comes with a new strategy: In 20 years the challenges in the food industry have changed and the TiFN portfolio has changed accordingly. A new vision and a focus on Health and Nutrition, Consumer Science and Sustainability has been developed in close collaboration with our board. This strategy provides a flexible framework for challenging research programs that deliver relevant results. You can read all about this new strategy in our summer magazine.

TiFN comes with great opportunities: The national science agenda (NWA) and the economic top-sector agenda’s including Agri & Food and Life Sciences & Health will soon be implemented. They will likely spawn projects that reach out across even more scientific disciplines and industrial sectors. In my opinion this can be a perfect match with TiFN’s fully independent nature and track record in establishing successful research programs with disciplines from different academic groups and, in some projects even industrial competitors.

Almost 20 years ago I started as a project leader at TiFN (in those days called WCFS). Who would have thought that I would be in this position 20 years later! Looking back, I think my curiosity as a scientist, my optimistic nature and my creative thinking have helped me to get to this point. Looking forward, I will need at least one thing more to have success: your enthusiasm as a TiFN supporter!


TiFN PhD fellow Antonina Krawczyk: “Research needs to be applied”

14 October 2017 – Educated as a molecular biologist, Antonina Krawczyk did not have so much experience with spore-forming bacteria yet. But after finishing her PhD project at TiFN she knows all ins and outs; why some spores awaken faster than others, for example. Krawczyk defended her thesis September 8, 2017 at the University of Groningen.

“Spore forming bacteria in food are difficult to control and therefore provide a continuous threat for the food industry”, explains Krawczyk. “Spores are very resistant and can survive decontamination treatments. They can remain dormant for some time and cause food spoilage or poisoning after becoming awake.”

More-effective decontamination strategies
In her PhD project, Krawczyk studied the process of dormant spores waking up, so called “germination”, and found a genetic factor (operon) that makes spores germinate slowly. “Most of the spores I studied woke up within half an hour, but if this operon was present in the bacterial genome it took them more time. These spores also appeared to be very resistant against high temperatures”, she says. “This insight will help the food industry to develop more-effective decontamination strategies.”

Research should be applicable, the scientist stresses. “This is what has attracted me to join TiFN for doing my PhD. We studied both lab and industrial bacterial strains, and matched the behaviour of multiple different bacteria with their genomic information – a combination that makes our research unique.”

Narrowing the scope
The biggest challenge for Krawczyk was to narrow the scope of the research. “The original project proposal was huge, with a lot of research questions to be answered”, she says. “I had to choose the most important ones in order to make it possible to complete the research within four years; quite challenging, as I did not have so much experience with spores yet.”

“Fortunately we worked with different experts in a team”, Krawczyk continues “Together we could sort it out, and besides that it was simply more fun to work together with so many different disciplines.”

Mid-September, Krawczyk started with a new challenge: a job at the French start-up company ELIGO Bioscience. “We are developing innovative drugs that help tackle the problem of antibiotics resistance”, she says. “The focus on the industrial relevance within TiFN has provided me with an application-oriented mindset, necessary for doing research in a commercial environment.”


TiFN PhD fellow Lieke Gijsbers: “From volunteer to friend”

14 October 2017 – During her TiFN PhD research, Lieke Gijsbers organized a 13-week controlled-intervention study with nearly 40 volunteers. The trial provided valuable insights into the vascular effects of sodium and potassium intake, and, in a surprising way, enlarged her network. Gijsbers defended her thesis 13 September 2017 at Wageningen University.

Such an extensive trial is unique in nutrition sciences, says Gijsbers, who was supervised by Dr Marianne Geleijnse from the Human Nutrition department. “Every day, for 13 weeks, volunteers visited the university, were served a hot meal and took a bag of food products home as part of their prescribed menu.”

It was an intense time, for the volunteers and for Gijsbers and her team. “We had many tasks: develop menus; prepare meals; give instructions and regularly measure blood pressure, vascular stiffness, vasodilation, heart rate and renal function”, she illustrates.  

Great commitment
Recruiting 40 volunteers was also quite a job. “Participation in such a long study requires a substantial commitment”, says the nutritionist. Moreover, admission criteria were strict: participants should have slightly-high blood pressure but not be using blood pressure-lowering medicines. “We had to be very creative to find the people we needed; at one local market we offered people free blood-pressure measurement.”

It was worth the effort, says the PhD fellow: “Our study highlighted the importance of sodium reduction in the diet. We also demonstrated that extra potassium helps reducing blood pressure, even in people consuming recommended levels of salt. Substituting potassium for sodium in food products could be a valuable approach.” Currently, the majority of Western people consume far too much table salt: average intake is 9-12 grams per day while the recommended intake is 5-6 grams.

In addition to the scientific insights gained, Gijsbers’ study was personally valuable: “We developed such a nice bond with the volunteers, that we organized a reunion – without the blood tests! – approximately one year after the trial, when all data was analysed and results were available”, she says.

Personal development
Working as a PhD with TiFN was, for Gijsbers, a prerequisite for her professional development: “Just working with so many disciplines opens your eyes and your brain.” She also enjoyed TiFN’s renowned close collaboration with industry. “Our partners were very interested in the work and wanted real detail on the what, how and why of our research. They also came up with interesting ideas, for example for additional lab analyses.”

Gijsbers uses her skills every day in her new job as a clinical programmer at OCS Life Sciences. “Our clients are as involved as TiFN’s industry partners.”

To read more about Gijsbers’ research, click here.

Female doctor checking blood pressure of a patient in the hospital

TiFN PhD fellow Yfke de Vries “Communicating clearly on what you do, how and why is essential”

14 October 2017 – TiFN PhD fellow Yfke de Vries has been investigating changes in taste and flavour perception during chemotherapy, in breast and oesophagogastric cancer patients. The scientist, who defended her thesis on September 1, 2017 at Wageningen University, was impressed with the outcomes: “Advanced sensory research is vital in developing medical nutrition that meets vulnerable patients’ specific needs and preferences.”

De Vries measured patients’ experiences of changes, as well as objective changes, in taste and smell perception. “Their capability to sense odours remained normal, but their taste perception changed”, she says. “Changes manifested as decreased liking and consumption of certain foods.” Breast cancer patients tended towards less fat and protein. “Medical nutrition usually contains high levels of protein, so this is important new information for product developers.”

De Vries often conducted smell and taste tests in patients’ homes. Some of their responses were rather impressing. “People told me they always had a bad taste in their mouth, or experienced flavours as very intense. In the perception of one particular patient, tea smelled like a zoo, and potatoes with garlic like a garage”, she illustrates. “Changes in taste and smell perception can thus have an enormous impact on daily life.”

Valuable suggestions
The PhD fellow found participation in the expert meetings with TiFN industry partners as very constructive and educational. “They came up with valuable questions and suggestions that helped me take my research to the next level.”

In her time at TiFN, De Vries also learned how important it is to communicate clearly what you do, and how and why. “I worked in a team with supervisors and other PhD fellows with different backgrounds, opinions and ideas”, she explains. “I needed excellent arguments to convince of the new directions my research took.”

Her enhanced communication skills have already proven valuable in De Vries’ new job as a food, health and taste concept designer at Avebe. “I am part of an innovation team focusing on valorising elements of potato waste streams, such as proteins”, she says. “The team consists of process designers, bioengineers and biochemists. In order to move forward, clear communication on the why and how of our work is essential.”

Changing sides
De Vries is still involved in sensory research, though in a different setting than during her TiFN adventure. “Now I’m sitting on the other side of the table”, she says. “This allows me to far better understand what industry partners aim to achieve in their collaboration with knowledge institutes.”

Want to read more about De Vries’ research? Click here.

PhD fellow Kirsten van der Beek: “TiFN’s multidisciplinary approach is inspiring”

11 October 2017 – Learning and succeeding in a multidisciplinary research setting was Kirsten van der Beek’s motivation to become a ‘TiFN PhD’. She defended her thesis on the metabolic effects of short-chain fatty acids in the large intestine on October 4, 2017 at Maastricht University.  

“I started at TiFN with a limited research education”, says Van der Beek, who got her MSc degree in medicine before starting her PhD. “Once there I learned how to really conduct and evaluate research and translate results into practice. We worked, for example, with dietary fibres, such as inulin and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), which are found in common food products.”

Van der Beek investigated the effects of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – produced from dietary fibres by, amongst others, bifidobacteria – on human energy metabolism. “Previously only studied in animals, our team was one of the first to investigate them in depth in humans.”

When introduced distally in the large intestine, SCFAs increased fat oxidation within a few hours; when introduced into the proximal part of the large intestine SCFAs did not have any effect. “It appears that manufacturers developing products to impact energy metabolism should focus on dietary fibres that ferment in the distal part of the intestine”, she explains. The exact fibres are still unknown. However, “Choosing fibres with complex structures – or making them more complex for fermentation – could be a promising way forward.”

From animal to human
Van der Beek’s major research challenge was translating animal experiments to human-intervention studies. “You cannot just access a part of a volunteer’s liver or intestine”, she says. “Fortunately I was placed in a team with hands-on, experienced colleagues who helped me find practical solutions.” For example, during large abdominal surgeries, so Van der Beek learnt, blood samples can be taken from normally inaccessible veins, such as the hepatic portal vein. “This allowed for measuring the release and uptake of SCFAs by the intestine and liver, respectively.”

The PhD fellow found it very inspiring to work in a team with so many disciplines – from dieticians and gastrointestinal specialists to molecular biologists and experts in animal studies. “My colleagues offered many new perspectives, triggering new ideas for research.”

Eighteen months ago, Van der Beek began working as a gastroenterology resident at the VieCuri Medical Centre in Venlo (the Netherlands). “When my training to become a gastroenterologist is completed, I would like to combine my clinical work with research”, she says. “Thanks to TiFN I’ve really got a taste for it.”


TiFN research highlights vitamin D shortage among elderly

29 September 2017 – Almost half the elderly in the Netherlands suffer from vitamin D deficiency. This is one of the main outcomes of Anouk Vaes’ research. Her work highlights the need for vitamin D supplementation, and provides direction for new interventions.  

Vitamin D, essential for healthy aging, regulates calcium and phosphorus homeostasis and bone mineralization, and probably also plays a role in muscle function. Naturally present in fatty fish, meat and eggs, it is also synthesized when skin is exposed to sunlight. The liver converts vitamin D into 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), a biomarker for vitamin D status. The kidneys subsequently convert this metabolite into the active form 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D.

Ongoing debate
Reduced synthesis of vitamin D in the skin and dietary absorption increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency in the elderly. The Dutch Health Council advises women of 50 years and older, and men of 70 and older to take vitamin D supplements. However, the optimal serum concentration of 25(OH)D for exerting its different health effects is yet to be established – casting doubt upon the efficacy of current intervention strategies.

Vaes aimed to gain insight into the prevalence and determinants of low vitamin D status. “We explored potential strategies to prevent or reverse vitamin D deficiency, and the effect of vitamin D supplementation on muscle strength and physical performance”, the scientist explains.

Forty-five per cent of the 2,851 adults in the study showed a deficiency in serum 25(OH)D concentrations (< 50 nmol/L), whereas one in seven (14%) showed severe deficiency (< 30 nmol/L). Significant associations were observed between age, BMI, dietary intake, sun-exposure and genetic polymorphisms encoding for vitamin D pathway enzymes. “Together, these factors explain thirty five per cent of the variation in serum 25(OH)D concentrations”, says Vaes.

Low dietary intake
The PhD fellow also investigated the contribution of dietary vitamin D intake to serum 25(OH)D concentration. Daily dietary vitamin D intake showed a median of 4.0 (3.0-5.4) μg/day while only 12-20% of participants reported using vitamin D supplements. “These findings are in sharp contrast to the current nutrient guidelines, which show that the vast majority of older adults do not meet the reference intakes for vitamin D”, stresses Vaes. The current recommended daily intake for elderly is 10-20 μg/day.

Supplementation and fortification
For the majority of older adults, supplementation and/or fortification of food products is required to ensure sufficient four-season serum 25(OH)D concentrations. Currently, vitamin D3 supplementation is the usual strategy.

Vaes investigated another approach: supplementation with the metabolite calcifediol. “In a dose-response trial, with 56 participants, calcifediol showed a ~3 times higher ability to increase serum 25(OH)D concentrations compared to vitamin D3”, she explains. “It could quickly help correct deficiencies, and could be valuable in cases of extreme deficiency, reduced intestinal absorption or impaired liver function.”

Physical performance
In a second intervention study, Vaes observed significant associations between low serum 25(OH)D concentrations, physical performance and frailty, in the study group. However, these associations could not be confirmed in a randomized trial with vitamin D and calcifediol supplements. “Further research is needed to define the causality of these associations”, she stresses. “In addition, interesting interventions to consider in future research include the synergistic effect of vitamin D, protein and physical exercise.”

Vaes, now a consultant with the Knowledge Institute of the Federation Medical Specialists, enjoyed four inspiring years as a PhD fellow. “TiFN provides an instructive setting for research: ongoing expert guidance and collaboration creates a hothouse for innovative ideas and ensures high quality research”, she says.

20th anniversary celebrated

25 July 2017 – On June 20th, TiFN celebrated its 20th anniversary with a barbecue party for its employees and former employees. Over sixty people raised their glasses on a beautiful past and a sunny future for TiFN! During the party, Ronald Visschers, the new director of TiFN, was introduced and had the occasion to meet all his predecessors.

During the preparations, it appeared that the address information of some former employees was not up to date. As a result, unfortunately, not all former employees could be invited. In order to to avoid this in the future, a Linkedin group “TiFN Alumni” has been created. In this group announcements for meetings and internal developments will be shared. All (former) employees can join this group.

To keep up to date on the developments within the projects of TiFN, you can sign up for InTouch, the TiFN newsletter.


Eight innovation challenges for the food industry

6 July 2017 – From malnutrition to overweight; from sustainable sourcing to consumer trust, the food industry is facing some of the most difficult issues of our time. TiFN has translated them into three research themes and eight innovation challenges.

At TiFN we believe only a holistic, systems approach can truly tackle the issues challenging our largest system, our planet. Such an approach would focus on providing healthy nutrition tailored to peoples’ individual needs, based on ‘smart’ food production, within the boundaries of our one planet, yet producing sufficient nutrition to to feed the global population. And, crucially, it would restore consumer engagement and trust: as a food manufacturer you can develop any product or technology you wish but, in the end, it is the consumer who decides to buy it or not.

The description of our three research themes and eight innovation challenges is reflected in our new magazine. You can download it here.

Dr Ronald Visschers appointed as managing director of TiFN

30 June 2017 – The board of TiFN is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Ronald Visschers as the new managing director. Ronald Visschers succeeds Marian Geluk. The appointment will be effective 28 August 2017.

Currently, Ronald Visschers is a principal advisor at TNO where he is responsible for the innovation strategy in the area of food quality and production. He holds a PhD in Biophysics from the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and has been active in food research and innovation since 2000 when he joined NIZO Food Research. In 2008 he joined TNO as a programme manager and business line manager.

In his new role, Ronald will actively forge international public private partnerships innovation programs that strengthen the position of the Dutch Food sector and its innovative strength such as the Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI) and the World Food Center (WFC) research programme. “We are pleased that we can appoint Ronald Visschers as the new managing director. The Dutch food industry is rapidly gaining innovation strength and we expect that TiFN can play an important role in the new exciting developments such as the SFI, WFC and the Dutch topsector policy” say Krijn Rietveld and Margrethe Jonkman, co-chairs of TiFN.

Building a national nutrition research agenda together

22 June 2017 – At the invitational conference (27 June) of TiFN, Topsector Agri & Food and ZonMW, experts from research organizations, businesses and government will discuss which topics in nutritional research are the most important to invest in in the Netherlands. Goal of the conference is to establish a national agenda. The first draft of the Delta Plan Nutrition Research – a solid foundation for the future will be presented. Participants are invited to give feedback and to make suggestions for further clarification of the plan.

More information
Want to learn more about the meeting and the Delta Plan? Contact Wilke van Ansem, Program Officer JPI Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life at ZonMw,

Presentations TiFN at AgriFoodTop Symposium

8 June 2017 – On 7 June, TiFN was co-host of the AgriFoodTop Symposium. Board member Raoul Bino presented the new research vision of TiFN and Theme director Wouter-Jan Schouten gave the audience an insight in the philisophy of the new setup of the theme Sustainable Food Systems. Both presentations can be downloaded below.

New ways of measuring health improvement

5 June 2017 –

Prolonged, resistance-type exercise training can shift skeletal muscle tissue towards a ‘younger’ phenotype. This is one of the key findings from research by Parastoo Fazelzadeh, who successfully defended her thesis on May 11th 2017 at Wageningen University. Her work has provided industry and academia with new ways to measure health improvement.

Health is affected by a complex network of interactions between biological pathways, mechanisms, processes and organs, all continuously adapting to a dynamically-changing environment. This adaptability is called phenotypic flexibility. “According to systems biologists health is compromised, and diseases develop, when these adaptive processes fail”, explains Fazelzadeh. “An individual’s metabolic phenotype, the product of interactions between several factors such as genetic makeup, diet, lifestyle, environment and the gut microbiome, can provide a reliable record of that person’s health status. But only if the interactions between all these factors are well understood”, she stresses.

Studying phenotype shifts
The aim of Fazelzadeh’s research, which was part of TiFN’s Muscle and Cardiovascular Health projects, was to provide new insight into these interactions. The PhD fellow investigated phenotype shifts by looking at the effect of prolonged, resistance-type exercise training on skeletal muscle tissue in older subjects, and the possible shift towards the characteristics of younger subjects as a reference for a healthier phenotype. With the same idea in mind, she looked at the response of obese subjects to a mixed-meal challenge (a meal containing two muffins and 300 ml milk, which accounted for 1,100 kilocalories), identifying phenotypic shifts towards the metabolism of non-obese subjects.

The PhD fellow found that healthy, but frail, older people have two distinct phenotypes according to their skeletal muscle-tissue-metabolite profiles. “Moreover, exercise training shifts older muscle towards a younger phenotype”, she says. Exercise substantially increased levels of amino-acid-derived acylcarnitines in muscle tissue, pointing towards a decrease in branched-chain amino-acid catabolism. The trial with obese people appeared to show that weight loss moderately affects the response to a mixed meal of the plasma metabolome and the transcriptome of peripheral blood mononuclear cells.

Innovative approach
For the measurements, Fazelzadeh and her colleagues used an innovative approach, combining a comprehensive metabolics platform with extended statistics. “We are one of the first projects to apply such a comprehensive approach”, she says. “We have optimized these approaches to facilitate food-industry use in, for example, the substantiation of mechanisms underlying potential health benefits.” Wageningen University scientists are already using these approaches in a follow-up project.








Nominations TiFN Publication Prize 2016

1 June 2017 – Every year, TiFN awards a publication prize to recognise the best scientific publication. This year, eight authors will present their presentation at the AgriFoodTop Symposium (7 june, Wageningen) in a short pitch. The audience will decide who will be the winner of the Publication Prize 2016.

The nominees are:

  • Baranska A, Mujagic Z, Smolinska A ,Dallinga JW, Jonkers D,Tigchelaar-Feenstra EF, Dekens JAM, Zhernakova A, Ludwig T, Masclee AAM, Wijmenga C, Van Schooten FJ (2016) Volatile Organic Compounds in breath as marker for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: a metabolomic approach – Breath biomarkers for IBS. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 44: 45-56. doi:10.111/apt.13654
  • Devezeaux de Lavergne M, Strijbosch VMG, Van den Broek AWM, Van de Velde F, Stieger M (2016) Uncoupling the impact of fracture properties and composition on sensory perception of emulsion-filled gels. Journal of Texture Studies 47: 92-111. doi:10.1111/jtxs.12164
  • Fazelzadeh P, Hangelbroek RWJ, Tieland M, De Groot LCPGM, Verdijk LB, Van Loon LJC, Smilde A, Alves RDAM, Vervoort J, Muller M, Van Duynhoven J, Boekschoten MV (2016) The muscle metabolome differs between healthy and frail older adults. Journal of Proteome Research 15: 499-509. doi:10.1021/acs.jproteome.5b00840
  • Krawczyk AO, Berendsen EM, de Jong A, Boekhorst J, Wells-Bennik MH, Kuipers OP, Eijlander RT (2016) A transposon present in specific stains of Bacillus subtilis negatively affects nutrient- and dodecylamine-induced spore germination. Environmental Microbiology 18(12): 4830-4846 doi:10.1111/1462-2920.13386
  • Lech FJ, Delahaije RJBM, Meinders MBJ, Gruppen H, Wierenga PA (2016) Identification of critical concentrations determining foam ability and stability of β-lactoglobulin Food Hydrocolloids 57: 46-54. doi:10.1016/j.foodhyd.2016.01.005
  • Prodan A, Brand H, Imangaliyev S, Tsivtsivadze E, Van der Weijden F, De Jong A, Paauw A, Crielaard W, Keijser B, Veerman E (2016) A study of the variation in the salivary peptide profiles of young healthy adults acquired using MALDI-TOF MS. PLoS One 11(6): e0156707. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0156707
  • Tarazanova M, Beerthuyzen M, Siezen R, Fernandez-Gutierrez MM, De Jong A, Van der Meulen S, Kok J, Bachmann H (2016) Plasmid complement of Lactococcus lactis NCDO712 reveals a novel pilin gene cluster. PLoS One 11 (12): e0167970. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0167970
  • Van der Wielen N, Ten Klooster JP, Muckenschnabl S, Pieters R, Hendriks HF, Witkamp RF, Meijerink J  (2016) The noncaloric sweetener rebaudioside a stimulates glucagon-like peptide 1 release and increases enteroendocrine cell numbers in 2-dimensional mouse organoids derived from different locations of the intestine. Journal of Nutrition 146: 2429-2435.  doi:10.3945/jn.116.232678


Valorising waste via decision-support modelling

19 April 2017 – Reduction of waste production can bring substantial environmental and economic benefits, proving that investing in production technologies which allow reduction, reuse and recycling of food waste is really worthwhile. This is the conclusion from research by TiFN PhD fellow Aleksander Banasik.

Food waste is a major problem in today’s food industry. To remain competitive, partners, throughout the supply-chain, must adopt new technologies that reduce or valorise food waste. Their challenge is to maintain or increase economic output while simultaneously reducing the environmental impact of their production processes.

The many sides of sustainability
Designing such ‘eco-efficient’ supply-chains requires complex decision-support models that can deal with all aspects of sustainability while taking into account the characteristics of products and their supply chains. Banasik was the first to use the principle of multi-objective optimisation to quantify trade-offs between conflicting objectives, such as total profit (economic performance) and cumulative exergy losses (environmental impact). He proposed decision-support models for optimising the logistics of food-supply chains, and tested them in bread and mushroom supply chains.

The PhD fellow showed that reducing waste production can bring substantial environmental and economic benefits. “A finding that should encourage the food industry to invest in production technologies that allow the reduction, reuse and recycling of food waste”, he says.

“In the case of mushrooms, for example, the price of certain growth-medium ingredients is expected to increase substantially in the forthcoming years”, he illustrates. “Some of my colleagues and our industry partners came up with a technological innovation that allows for recycling part of the substrate-waste stream and using it as raw materials for production. This results in cost savings and reduces the environmental impact associated with waste disposal.”

Closing loops
Using the decision-support model, Banasik demonstrated that, at the chain level, great benefits can be obtained by introducing this technology into current production methods. “The findings also showed that it is actually possible to ‘close loops’ in food-supply chains, and that it pays off to apply uncertainties – such as demand patterns and prices of raw materials – in optimisation models.”

TiFN’s industry partners received the outcomes with enthusiasm; several follow-up studies have begun in both the bread and mushroom chains.






Editorial InTouch: Geared to success

mgeluk222 March 2017 – TiFN is currently revising its strategy in order to be best prepared for the future and to continue to be the most significant pre-competitive research platform in food and nutrition in the Netherlands. The focus of the new TiFN themes will be on nutrition & health, sustainable food systems and consumer engagement. The challenges in this themes are multifaceted and no simple solutions are to be found.

Typically matters TiFN should dive into and where we can create our greatest added value for our partners. This exciting and highly interactive strategy process will be completed in June 2017 and we look forward to share the result with you at the AgriFoodTop on June 7th. Please save the date!

In past months, we have launched a number of new projects. A clear sign that TiFN has successfully transformed since completing its FES period last year. For example, the new Sustainable Ingredients project, led by Marcel Meinders, which will focus on creating textures based on mix of animal and plant based proteins and working with less refined – and therefore defined – ingredients. A crucial step towards a more sustainable way to produce food. Most recently in the health area, we have set up a hugely challenging project addressing the individual health level, viz. Unravelling the biology behind perceivable consumer benefits, or in brief Glucose (M)apping, led by Ellen Blaak. If successful, the outcome of this project will be of paramount importance to individual health counselling programmes. We are building on many years of experience in metabolic processes, but also made a deliberate choice to neglect individual differences no longer, but to embrace them in our research approach. Danone, DSM, FrieslandCampina, Fromageries Bel and Unilever are investers in these projects, and I hope to see others joining soon. NWO and TKI Agri&Food are the public funders of these projects, but also of the other new projects in the TiFN portfolio. TiFN is grateful for their confidence and support. The total portfolio currently mounts to a total value of about 30M€.

Even though we are reviewing our strategic purpose, the TiFN values of Industrial relevance and scientific excellence still stand strong. Additionally,  we have  made societal relevance our third core value in a more prominent way. As before, TiFN project teams are still characterized by their critical mass: a mix of young and experienced scientists combined with professional experts. The project plans are thorough by design and flexible if needed; investing parties devote senior management to supervise the projects closely from start to end. Geared to success, and of course, a lot of fun along the way!

TiFN has welcomed quite some new people in the past months. Please read the article on Wouter-Jan Schouten (ex BCG), our new Theme Director Sustainable Food Systems. Rob Beudeker is the new Theme Director Nutrition and Health, and combines this with his position at DSM. Aafke van den Boom joined us in augustus 2016, and you can read about her as well in this newsletter.

You will also encounter Krijn Rietveld in this newsletter, a valued new member of the TiFN Board, and, together with Margrethe Jonkman, interim chairman of the Board. In the newsletters to come, we look forward to introduce you to all Board members of TiFN and their organizations, involved in the TiFN projects.

Finally as you may know, I will be leaving TiFN shortly to become director of FNLI, the Dutch federation of food producers. As such I will continue to strive for a strong industry that contributes to a healthy and sustainable society to the benefit of all consumers. So good-bye, thank you so much for the great cooperation. I wish TiFN all the success in the future, and I am looking forward to see you all soon again!

Kind regards,

Marian Geluk




Wooden signpost with two opposite arrows over green leaves background. YESTERDAY versus TOMORROW directional signs, Choice concept image





New project: Sustainable Ingredients

7 April 2017 – The new TiFN project ‘Sustainable Ingredients’ will investigate to what extent sustainable ingredient sources and processes can be used to manufacture products with desirable structural and mechanical properties.

Raw materials, energy and water are becoming more scarce. This factor is an important driver behind the industry interest in this project. Food industry needs to adapt to more sustainable sources and production methods. In some cases this implies also (partial) replacement of animal proteins by plant proteins. In other cases purification steps need to be eliminated. This would mean that more the original raw materials (complex mixtures) are used. Meanwhile a constant product quality (structure, texture, taste, smell, safety and nutritional value) needs to be safeguarded. Hence the drive towards ‘Functionality from food’.

Project leader Marcel Meinders (Wageningen Food & Biobased Research): “In this project we will investigate to what extent more sustainable ingredients (by varying sources and processes) can be used to manufacture products with desirable structural and mechanical properties of multiphase food products. The new insights will allow the industry with a higher formulation flexibility, i.e. more efficiently replacing ingredients, while at the same time better controlling the sustainability impact as well as the structure and mechanical properties of their products.”

The project will run for 5 years and has a budget of 2.9 million euros. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and TKI Agri&Food are funding a part of the project costs through the joint programme ‘System Approaches for Food and Nutrition’.




Addressing sustainability issues offers opportunities

29 March 2017 – In the autumn of 2016 Wouter-Jan Schouten joined TiFN as the new Theme Director Sustainable Food Systems. After a long career in management consulting, Wouter-Jan decided in 2013 to dedicate his career to driving sustainability in food systems: “Addressing sustainability issues offers interesting business opportunities.”

Wouter-Jan Schouten has a clear vision on sustainability in agri-food systems: “We face four issues in the food systems of today that need te be addressed. Half of the world population suffers from malnourishment, 75% of all farmers globally is poor, the food systems exceeds most planetary boundaries and the amount of food waste is much too high. Addressing these facts is a challenge, but offers also interesting opportunities for farmers, businesses and the society.”

Essential for success is a holistic approach, says Wouter-Jan: “We need to change our core approach to sustainability from fragmented, reductionist efforts to combating negative impacts, towards long-term holistic programmes. Therefore we need to establish coalitions that focus on transforming specific combinations of interrelated agri-landscapes, value chains and consumer markets. It is crucial that these coalitions appreciate the importance of collaborative learning as a first step to identify and capture the opportunities for growth and value creation.”

The holistic approach applies to conducting research as well: “All factors are connected. To develop meaningful knowledge, we need to conduct multidisciplinary research. In our new programmes I would like to bring together experts in ecology, economy, sociology and agrotechnology to come to science-based methods for the transition to sustainable food systems. I also want to involve businesses in a much earlier stage than usually. The transition to sustainability is only possible when science and business have a tight and early connection. To achieve this we need to combine fundamental and applied research within the same programs.”

As the new Theme Director Sustainable Food Systems, Wouter-Jan expects to be able to contribute to the creating of new coalitions that can accelerate the transition to sustainable food systems. He identifies opportunities on three topics: “Regenerative agriculture with healthy business models for Dutch farmers, minimal processing and the optimal use of biomass and prevention of food waste.” Currently, new TiFN programmes are drafted on these topics.

Next to his role at TiFN, Wouter-Jan is also senior advisor at NewForesight Consultancy, a specialized firm that is supporting many sustainability platforms in the global food sector. In this capacity he recently published a discussion paper ‘New Horizons for the transition of our Food Systems: connecting Ecosystems, Value Chains and Consumers







Reducing methane emissions in the dairy sector

22 March 2017 – The international dairy sector has set eleven criteria to come to a sustainable way of working. One of these criteria is the reduction of the emission of greenhouse gasses. The recently finished TiFN project ‘Reduced methane emissions of dairy cows’ shows that selective breeding can reduce methane emissions of dairy cows.

The Dairy Sustainability Framework, which unites many international sector organisations, has set eleven criteria to come to a sustainable dairy sector. Globally, improvements on soil nutrients, soil quality, biodiversity and animal welfare are needed. The sector also needs to significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses. These emissions vary greatly between different parts of the world. In North-Europe, where cows have a large life milk production, greenhouse gas emissions are relative low per litre milk. Nevertheless, the Dutch dairy sector aims for a further reduction and wants to achieve a 30% reduction by 2020.

Fig 1. The emissions of greenhouse gases from a dairy farm are made up mainly of, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2). In general, the split is 50%, 30% and 20%, respectively. Source: GLEAM (The Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model)

More than half of the global-warming impact of milk production is caused by methane production from cows. To find clues how to reduce these emissions, several parties in the sector joined hands in 2012 and started the TiFN-project ‘Reduced methane emissions of dairy cows’. Project partners were CRV, Lely Industries, Qlip, Centraal Bureau Levensmiddelenhandel, ZuivelNL, Federatie Nederlandse Levensmiddelen Industrie, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Wageningen UR.


A seminar to mark the end of the project was held on March 14 in Wageningen. During the seminar, results obtained in the project were presented and implementation of results was discussed. The seminar attracted about 85 participants representing many actors involved in the topic, such as farmer representatives, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, breeding, dairy and feed industry, and research.

The first step in the project was to develop methods to measure the methane emissions of individual cows. The project team developed two indicators. One indicator is based on the milk composition, the other one is based on air expelled by cows. Both indicators were used to collect methane emissions of large numbers of individual cows on commercial dairy farms. These data of both indicators give breeding organisation CRV valuable clues to reduce methane emissions through breeding.

Marleen Visker, one of the three postdocs involved in the project: “We found that milk composition can explain the emissions for about 50%. Expelled air also explains about 50%. Since both indicators seem to explain different parts of the emissions, a combination of both indicators is expected to capture most of the emissions. In our calculations around 10% of the differences between cows in methane emissions are due to genetics. Since we can use the data of many daughters of each bull, we can reliably establish the genetic merit for methane emissions of such bulls. This is valuable information for CRV to influence the emissions by selection. Current selection strategies reduce the methane emission per kg of milk with 0.7% per year. The indicators developed in this project are expected to contribute to an even further reduction.”

The outcome of the project serves as a building block to come to lower emissions. To come to a sustainable sector, also the other ten criteria of The Dairy Sustainability Framework should be fulfilled. TiFN is currently developing programmes on some of these topics. One thought is how regenerative production can be achieved within one generation in the Dutch agriculture landscape, including economic and social consequences. What mix of land based and landless (stables, greenhouse) production systems fits within planetary boundaries? What type of production can best be done at what location? And how much output can thus be achieved in a net positive system? If you are interested in this new programme, please contact Wouter-Jan Schouten for further information.






“Creating TiFN teamspirit with SharePoint”

22 March 2017 –  Seven months ago Aafke van den Boom was appointed as theme coordinator at TiFN. Together with Rianne Hermus, she is responsible for a smooth organization within the projects. Furthermore, one of her main tasks is to implement SharePoint for the project teams.

aafke2Van den Boom: “SharePoint makes cooperation easier. By managing all documents in one place, every project member always has access to the latest versions. Additionally, you can keep each other informed of the latest developments. Via chat and news feed features you can create team spirit, even if the members are spread across the country or even the world”. SharePoint is a new tool for many project members. Aafke is the first point of contact for questions, but also promotes the use: “I send the teams regular emails with tips for using SharePoint.”

Aafke, who is an alumnus of Wageningen University, is passionate about her work: “It strikes me that the project teams and staff are full of ambition and enthusiasm. For example, the Ambition2Results workshops of the Sharp, Trade-offs and Spores teams are full of energy and have been a great opportunity to quickly learn who is who and what TiFN projects are about. I feel fine in this environment and it stimulates me. I think TiFN is a great place to work and I hope to contribute to realizing our ambitions.”








“Spot-on topics that yield valuable knowledge”

22 March 2017 –  “Currently, health and sustainability are by far the greatest themes in the food sector,” says Krijn Rietveld, Senior Vice President Partnering for Innovation at DSM and member of the board at TiFN: “Consequently, the new TiFN programmes are spot-on , designed to yield valuable knowledge that contributes to a healthier and more sustainable society.”

Rietveld works on starting up and developing innovation-led partnerships within DSM’s food division: “We are a global market leader in important ingredients in food. To hold onto that position we need to take the lead in innovation. This means a great deal of investment in R&D. In addition, we collaborate with the world’s leading lights in our professional fields. For example, we have built relations with MIT and, among others, the universities of Munich, Delft, Leuven, Wageningen, Groningen and Maastricht.”

The perfect vehicle for joint ventures
Rietveld notes that the sector devotes much of its energy to the development of healthier products and sustainable production methods: “In the past, it sometimes seemed largely that lip service was being paid to those principles. Matters are really different now and industry wants to take big strides forward. We assist our customers – virtually all in the world’s top 40 food producers – to reduce the quantity of sugar and salt in their products without sacrificing flavour. To do this we have developed sugar and salt substitutes as well as natural flavour enhancers based on yeast and yeast extracts.” In terms of sustainability, DSM works on products that will increase the efficiency of production processes. For example, a DSM enzyme enables a brewer to bypass a cooling stage in the brewing process. This translates into a 5 to 7% energy saving for the brewer. “However, the sector still needs to make significant progress,” expresses Rietveld: “I believe the solutions will be feasible only if we collaborate in developing them. TiFN is an ideal vehicle for joint ventures of that sort. TiFN engages the best experts in a programme and provides focus through its strict programme management. We benefit from this as an industrial partner, because the project is kept on track, and it means we can expect optimum results.”

More investment in TiFN programmes

At present, DSM is taking part in four TiFN programmes: Cardiovascular Health, Muscle Health and Function , SHARP-BASIC and Perceivable Benefits. Notably, none of the programmes is directing a specific focus of attention on the development of ingredients. Rietveld: “We are investing in the projects in order to develop underlying knowledge – often together with our customers. If this allows us simultaneously to develop a new product then all well and good, of course, but that is never the most important goal.” Nevertheless, Rietveld does not discount that this might change in the near future: “We want to invest more in TiFN programmes. We also have a great deal of interest on the subjects of minimal processing, clean labelling and fermentation technology. We have direct commercial interests in this and, consequently, we are keen to invest in robust research programmes in those fields.”

Shorter post-graduate projects
Rietveld advocates a secondary format for TiFN programmes: “Programmes often last up to four years. Sometimes this is too long for us. Particularly with strategic subjects in mind, it’s a good idea to provide shorter programmes of two to three years as well. Research in programmes of that sort is carried out by post-graduates. We’re then able to amass new knowledge more quickly and thus also respond more quickly to developments. I don’t think that DSM would be alone in benefiting from this.”

A unique type of partnership
Rietveld notes that TiFN is unique in terms of bringing together leading players in the field of nutrition: “There is intensive programme collaboration between Wageningen, Maastricht, Groningen, NIZO and others. We benefit from this by having leading experts in the project teams who work well together. This owes itself in part to distances within the Netherlands, but it’s worth noting that you seldom come across this degree of cooperation in other international partnerships.”







Modulating the composition and characteristics of dental plaque

2 March 2017 – The composition and characteristics of dental plaque can be adjusted, without altering the overall amount of plaque formed. This is the key conclusion from lab research by TiFN’s PhD fellow Marleen Janus. Her work provides leads for the development of products that might help reduce the development of caries and gum disease, such as chewing gum or sweets.

The human mouth is full of bacteria, mainly present in dental plaque, what scientists call ‘oral biofilms’: microbial ecosystems which strongly attach to the teeth. Pathogenic biofilms – in which problems-causing bacteria predominate – have been extensively studied already. Commensal biofilms, with a more balanced composition, are far less understood. Janus’ research focussed on commensal biofilms, and she developed a model system that allowed cultivation of these biofilms in the lab. Her thesis can be found here.

Caries and gingivitis
The PhD fellow used the saliva of volunteers as a ‘starter’ for growing different biofilms. “The nutrients that you give a biofilm affect its development”, says Janus. She cultivated three types of biofilms: one representing caries (by adding sucrose to induce lactate production), one representing gingivitis (by adding serum to increase protease activity, a characteristic of gingivitis), and a neutral biofilm (representing the healthiest condition).

She found that the sweetener erythritol, known for its anti-cariogenic effects, can also retard gingivitis development. “The higher the concentration of erythritol in the growth medium the greater the reduction of protease activity in our ‘gingivitis model’”, says Janus. Erythritol introduction also caused changes in the bacterial composition of the biofilm towards a less maturated biofilm.

Signal molecule 3-Oxo-N
Another promising candidate for modulating the composition and growth of biofilms is the compound 3-Oxo-N, a signal molecule involved in communication between bacteria in oral biofilms (so-called quorum sensing). “We found that in the presence of 3-Oxo-N the biofilms produced almost no lactate, while the overall volume of biofilms remained the same”, the microbiologist illustrates.

Product development
According to Janus, the findings should provide interesting leads for product development. “Once toxicity tests have confirmed safety of use, 3-Oxo-N could, like erythritol, be used in new products to support oral health, such as chewing gum or hard sweets.”

Symposium on findings programme ‘Oral Health’
The work of Janus was part of the TiFN programme ‘Oral Health’. On 11 May a symposium will be held to present the findings from the programme. More info can be found here.







New TiFN-project will generate valuable clues for maintaining personalised health

10 February 2017 – A well-controlled blood glucose concentration is an important factor to prevent metabolic diseases and may be related to physical and mental well-being. The new TiFN-project “The biology behind perceived benefits” will investigate the, yet unknown, underlying mechanisms and will make clear why the individual response to an intervention varies greatly. Ultimately, the knowledge generated in this project will open doors to develop more effective personalised approaches to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

People often do not perceive the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in the short term, nor the adverse effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. Furthermore, despite being compliant to lifestyle advices, the response to a lifestyle intervention varies between individuals. With this in mind, the new TiFN-project titled ‘The biology behind perceivable benefits’, aims to develop a personalised approach to optimise the positive effects of diet(ary intervention) and an active lifestyle on blood glucose control and physical and mental performance and well-being.

Project leader Prof Ellen Blaak (Maastricht University): “The first step for our team, which is composed of research groups of Maastricht University, Wageningen University, Leiden University, and Radboud University, is to unravel the relation between diet and physical activity, blood glucose concentrations and health problems. This will give us valuable clues to develop personalised strategies to maintain a well-balanced blood glucose concentration. Making the benefits of a well-balanced blood glucose concentration clear will help individuals to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We will also evaluate the application of wearables and other tools to quantify the progress of health.”

FrieslandCampina, Danone and DSM are participating in this 5.3 million euro project. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and TKI Agri&Food are  funding a part of the project costs, through the joint programme ‘System Approaches for Food and Nutrition’.

The project is closely linked to the project ‘Personalized Nutrition and Health’ which is conducted by Wageningen University and Research and TNO and is funded by Topsector Agri & Food. Blaak: “The fundamental knowledge we generate will be of great value for this project too. We agreed to stay in close contact to exchange our findings. Together we can make big steps towards a new personalised methods to stay healthy.”






Modulating the ageing immune system

10 February 2017 – It is likely that age-related degeneration of the immune system can be reverted or prevented by nutritional interventions. But translational research is essential – from animal to human and young to elderly. This is the key message from the PhD work of Dr Adriaan van Beek, who successfully defended his thesis on 17 January 2017 at Wageningen University.

The increase in the elderly population has become a major burden on public health care and economies. DNA damage is considered to be the major origin of age-related changes in the body. “The immune system becomes deregulated with ageing, often characterized by systemic, low-grade inflammation”, explains Van Beek. In a mouse study, he investigated the underlying processes and mechanisms. He also studied the effects of nutritional and microbial interventions on ‘ageing markers’, such as thickness of the mucus layer, the diversity of the microbiota and the number of immune cells present in several immune organs.

Supplementing probiotics
The PhD fellow demonstrated that supplementing with probiotics had different effects in old mice compared to young mice. “In the young mice we found almost no effects”, he says. “In old mice, one probiotic strain had a positive effect, resulting in a thicker mucus layer. Two other strains, however, had negative effects; the mucus layer from the old mice became thinner and there were more signs of inflammation in the body.” Van Beek’s findings underline the importance of translational research in delivering outcomes, appropriate to the target segment of the population, that are both safe and effective.

Van Beek also investigated the effect of a tryptophan-restricted diet, and found changes in microbiota composition and immune cell development. “We found a near-complete absence of B cell precursors in the bone marrow following this diet”, he says.

Providing a clear picture
Van Beek is happy with the outcomes of his work, which he carried out together with researchers from different groups in Wageningen, Groningen and Rotterdam. “We combined a wide range of techniques, from immunological analyses to measuring the mucus layer and the diversity of microbiota. Such a multidisciplinary approach is essential in providing a clear picture of the processes involved.”

The relatively lengthy duration, of the animal experiments, was challenging, as was coordinating a project with so many different contributors “It required strict planning, mutual agreements and clear decisions.”





TiFN research identifies new enzymes that break-down resistant starch

2 February 2017 – What has a very long tail and degrades starch granules through pore formation? Two enzymes, identified by TiFN’s PhD fellow Vincent Valk, acting and looking very different to other members of the amylase family. The microbiologist describes them in his thesis; defended on 27 January 2017 at Groningen University. His work continues TiFN’s long tradition of supporting the food industry in product development.

The amylases, named MaAmyA and AmyB, are produced by Microbacterium aureum B8.A. This microorganism was isolated from sludge obtained from a wastewater treatment plant of a potato-starch processing factory. “The two enzymes work together, efficiently degrading resistant-starch granules”, says Valk. “They are extremely long, over twice the size of the amylase found in saliva. Moreover, they completely degrade starch granules through pore formation, whereas amylases in the human gastrointestinal tract are unable to fully degrade such granules.”

Low-calorie products
The findings will provide leads for diverse product development. “Using starch granules produced by enzymes could enhance the development of low-calorie bread”, Valk illustrates. The use of granules with pores might also facilitate cost reduction, due to their increased flavouring-holding capacity. By using them to partly break-down resistant starch into sugars, one could create an extra sweet taste without adding extra sugars.

Apart from the new enzymes, Valk’s work – part of TiFN’s Slow Starch project – also provided new insights into the breakdown of resistant starch in the gastrointestinal tract. “We have found a novel carbohydrate-binding domain (CBM74) in the enzyme MaAmyA”, he explains.  “Detailed analysis revealed that this domain was mainly found in large complex amylases, which are produced by bacteria present in the microbiota of the large intestine.” The findings indicate that CBM74 plays an important role in the fermentation of resistant starch in the large intestine.

The enzymes are produced by, for example, Ruminoccoccus bromii and Bifidobacterium adolescentis; microorganisms that, according to earlier research, appear to be almost absent in people with obesity. “This could explain why these people are often incapable of fermenting resistant starch in their intestines”, says Valk. The outcomes underline the importance of creating a beneficial environment for the microbiota, and provide leads for targeted development of pre- and probiotics.

Creating desirable new products
Valk looks back appreciatively at his TiFN time. “It was fascinating to see the hoops food manufacturers must jump through to get health claims approved, or how they to communicate a higher product price to the consumer”, he says. “Margins are small, especially in carbohydrate-rich products like bread, potatoes and pasta. You really need to demonstrate added value in order to justify increasing prices. I hope our enzyme discoveries will help manufacturers to create useful and desirable new products.”





Unravelling the biochemistry of a healthy mouth

18 January 2017 – Males’ saliva has a higher pH and buffering capacity than female’s; one of the most interesting outcomes of research by Dr Andrei Prodan. The TiFN PhD fellow defended his thesis on 17 January, 2017 at the Free University of Amsterdam. His work provides leads for the development of better-targeted oral-hygiene strategies.

Despite good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist, caries and periodontitis remain a major health issue for people in developed countries. “Oral disorders can have a significant impact on systemic health, social functioning and wellbeing”, says Prodan. “Why some people have a ‘healthy’ mouth whereas others do not – despite regular brushing and flossing – remains unclear.” Prodan’s research, part of the TiFN project Novel strategies to promote oral health, aimed to identify the biochemistry of saliva which, together with the teeth, mucosal tissues and the oral microbiota, comprises the oral ecosystem.

Extensive trials
The PhD fellow carried out two extensive clinical trials: a cross-sectional observational study (268 participants) aimed at estimating the boundaries of a healthy oral ecosystem, and a randomized challenge intervention study (61 subjects) exploring the dynamic interactions in the oral ecosystem during the induction of mild gingival inflammation. “People volunteered to abstain from tooth brushing, flossing and any other kind of oral hygiene for two weeks”, he says.

The first study revealed that males’ saliva has a higher pH and buffering capacity than women’s. “This is probably caused by hormonal differences”, says the food scientist, a specialist in protein chemistry. “This finding, however, does not necessarily mean that women are more vulnerable to oral health problems.”

The second study revealed that oral bacteria – which grow in biofilms consisting of different types of bacteria – increased their metabolism to adapt to the acidic conditions created by lactic-acid bacteria”, says Prodan. The amount of certain types of bacteria increased, whereas other bacteria were reduced.

Better-targeted strategies
Prodan – whose contract has been extended until April to finalize the research – and his colleagues are still analysing the data from the first study. The second study will continue for a few months. “We expect the final results will substantially improve our understanding of how the microbiota interacts with oral hygiene and nutrition, making better-targeted oral-hygiene strategies possible.” Industry partners are committed to the research.

‘Teaching’ each other
According to the PhD fellow TiFN’s oral health-project is globally unique. “We have taken a very multidisciplinary approach, with expertise ranging from biochemists, clinicians and microbiologists to specialists in mathematical modelling”, he says. “It has been very nice to be part of such a large and diverse team in a vibrant working environment. “A mathematician sees points on a line, where a biochemist sees peaks on a line; so we really had to ‘teach’ each other our specialist languages.”





Rob Beudeker joins TiFN

12 January 2017 – As of January 1,  Rob Beudeker joins TiFN as Theme Director Nutrition and Health.

Rob has extensive experience in research and development in the food industry. He had several functions at DSM and will combine his role at TiFN with his role as Senior Investment Manager at DSM Venturing. Rob is responsible for the investment in start-up companies active in nutrition.

He was active as VP Innovation at Human Nutrition and Health at DSM between 2010-2016. He has an MSc in biology and PhD in microbiology from the University of Groningen. He did a post-doc at the University of Texas at Austin in molecular biology after which he joined Gist-brocades (now DSM) R&D in 1984. He got an MBA from the Universities of Rotterdam and Rochester (NY).

Rob’s network and experience in the food industry will be highly valuable for taking TiFN’s research portfolio on nutrition and health to the next level.

Rob is the successor of Rolf Bos, who left TiFN at the end of December 2016 to fully concentrate on his job at FrieslandCampina. We look forward to continue working together with him in this new form and we thank him for the great work he has done for TiFN.





Bugs and buttermilk: Epidemiological and molecular health

11 January 2017 – Clarity about the impact of dietary fibres, buttermilk consumption, smoking and over hundred other dietary and lifestyle factors on microbiota composition and gut complaints, is what PhD researcher Dr Ettje Tigchelaar, has delivered. She defended her thesis on 14 December at the University of Groningen. Her work – which includes the most extensive study on microbiota composition ever attempted – provides validated biomarkers for the diagnosis of gut complaints.

In the Netherlands, one in ten people suffer from gut complaints (functional gastrointestinal disorders), which can have a high negative impact on their daily activities. “Currently, diagnosis and treatment are not straightforward, and often impeded by the multiple factors that play a role in gut health”, explains Tigchelaar. “It is therefore important to improve our knowledge in this field.”

The PhD fellow – who combined epidemiological approaches with modern metagenomics techniques – investigated data from 1,100 volunteers and identified 126 factors, which affect microbiota composition. “These factors ranged from food products including buttermilk, fruits and vegetables to smoking and stool consistency”, she says. “Although we did not have data on actual fibre intake, we could see an association between high-fibre products and the diversity of the microbiota, whereas the opposite was the case for high-fat products.” 

Tigchelaar also investigated the association between food intake and gut complaints, such as constipation and abdominal pain: “I have found, for example, a lower intake of fibre and a higher intake of meat in people with gut complaints.”

Combining biomarkers
In her thesis, the epidemiologist presents a biomarker panel that can be used in the diagnosis of gut complaints (for general practitioners) and in the selection of candidates for nutrition trials (for the food industry). “We identified a combination of eight components originating from blood or faeces, including short-chain fatty acids, chromogranine-A and cytokines”, Tigchelaar illustrates. The biomarker panel has a high – though not 100% – predictive value. “Using an additional questionnaire, about gut complaints, is necessary to confirm findings”, she stresses.

According to the PhD fellow the close collaboration between TiFN scientists is vital to the top-quality research conducted there. “In the Validation of Biomarkers Project, of which my project was a part, we were working with novel research techniques that took time to learn and understand, and we had to manage huge datasets”, she says. “Every team member came in with his expertise at the right moment, so that together we made major steps in the analysis of our data.”





Testing nutritional interventions to preserve muscle mass

21 December 2016 – Supplementing healthy people with protein, creatine and leucine, while they are in a plaster cast or on an energy-restricted diet, has no effect on muscle-mass preservation. This is the major outcome of research by Dr Evelien Backx. The TiFN PhD fellow successfully defended her thesis on December 6th, 2016 at Wageningen University.

Backx investigated the effect of dietary interventions in two different models for muscle mass loss: a group of 60 healthy young men who volunteered to have a leg in plaster for a week, and 61 overweight people (age 50-70) on a 12-week energy-restricted diet with either high or normal protein levels.

“In contrast to what we expected, in both groups there was no visible effect of protein, creatine and leucine on muscle-mass preservation”, says Backx. Earlier work shows the benefit of extra protein, creatine or leucine in combination with strength training. “However, these compounds are not necessarily effective in the preservation of muscle mass during a period of inactivity or weight loss.”

According to Backx, protein enrichment of foods or protein supplements could still be a promising area of product development. “Adequate protein intake is essential for people on a calorie-restricted diet in order to limit loss of muscle mass”, she stresses. “During a period of weight loss, protein intake usually decreases, which could possibly enhance the loss of muscle mass. Protein-enriched food products could be an effective strategy to maintaining protein intake while decreasing overall calorie intake.”

Backx, who was working in two research groups at the same time – Maastricht University and Wageningen University – can look back on four inspiring years. “In Maastricht they know everything about measuring muscle mass and performance”, she says. “And Wageningen has a strong track record in setting up extensive studies, like our 12-week, strictly-controlled, dietary-intervention trial. I was surrounded by a team of experienced dieticians and enthusiastic students that helped me to get all the work done, such as preparing the volunteers’ daily food intake.” The PhD fellow was also happy with the perceived value of her research. “It was good to see industry partners being so interested in the outcomes.”

Distributing 85,000 flyers
Recruiting participants was a challenge for both trials and needed the best of the new and the old. “The immobilisation study required extensive communication via social media”, Backx illustrates. “And people who were interested in the energy-restriction trial often did not meet our strict inclusion criteria, so we had to physically distribute 85,000 flyers to homes in Wageningen and surrounding neighbourhoods in order to get 61 participants.”

Colleagues of Backx at Wageningen University have already started a series of follow-up studies in the elderly, focussed on interventions with protein and exercise. While in Maastricht, the immobilisation studies continue. Backx is no longer involved in the research – at least not in her own project. “As a lecturer in Nutrition at the Fontys Hogeschool in Eindhoven I am supporting students in their graduate research”, she says. “A role even more application-oriented than my research for TiFN.”




How spoilage bacteria form biofilms

12 December 2016 – New tools and insights into inhibiting the formation of biofilms by spoilage-causing Lactobacillus plantarum are the result of the research by Mónica Fernández Ramírez. The TiFN PhD fellow successfully defended her thesis on 2 December 2016, at Wageningen University. Her work provides new leads for the development of more-effective cleaning and disinfection strategies in the food industry.

Biofilms consist of microorganisms attached to a surface and embedded in a protective matrix of extracellular polymeric substances. Within a biofilm, micro-organisms are protected against cleaning and disinfecting agents. Transfer of living biofilm cells to foods can result in quality decay or even worse.

Motile and non-motile bacteria
Fernández Ramìrez investigated the formation of biofilms consisting of single or multiple strains of Lactobacillus plantarum, a micro-organism often used in food fermentation but that can also cause food decay. “Many biofilm-formation studies focus on pathogens and motile bacteria, which have structures like flagella to help them reach surfaces”, the PhD fellow stresses. “But non-motile micro-organisms such as Lactobacillus plantarum should also be studied, as they have different mechanisms of biofilm formation.”

In her experiments, she applied both quantitative PCR and next-generation sequencing based on detection of strain-specific alleles in biofilm growth models. “Next generation sequencing allows high-throughput sequencing”, she explains, “and through natural variations of a region in the genome of each strain they can be successfully identified and quantified.”

Proteins and surface colonization
The PhD fellow discovered that, in the case of the single-strain biofilms, proteins and/or proteinaceous material played an important role in surface colonization and extracellular DNA, as components of the biofilm matrix. Lysis led to inactivation of cells, but the destroyed cells also helped in creating the biofilm.

Stress response
Performance of individual strains in dual-strain biofilms was highly influenced by the presence of the secondary strain; in the same dual combinations as floating cells this was not the case. Putting the microorganisms under stress conditions, such as high temperature and omitting the mineral managanese, affected the relative abundance of each strain as well as release of eDNA.

The strains dominating the biofilms in static conditions – which occur in, for example, dead ends or crevices of materials – were not the same as those dominating in biofilms developed in dynamic, flowing conditions (pipes). “We investigated the genome content of the dominating strains to identify genetic factors that potentially contribute to strain-specific, competitive, biofilm-forming capacity”, explains the PhD fellow. All the single, dual and multi-strain biofilms contained a considerable number of viable L. plantarum cells, representing a potential source of contamination.

Instructive and inspiring
Fernández Ramìrez, who is looking for a research position in the food industry, considers her time as a PhD fellow at TiFN as valuable for her career. “The close interaction with the bacterial genomics platform has been very instructive”, she says. She also enjoyed the expert meetings in which both industry partners and colleagues from the Food Safety and Preservation theme were involved. “I learnt a lot about my own subject as well as related topics such as spores and predictive modelling.”



Same taste, different feeling – Taste perception differences between elderly and younger adults

1 December 2016 – Elderly and younger adults experience similar taste sensations, but enjoy tastes differently. This is one of the most evident outcomes from the research by Heleen Hoogeveen. The TiFN PhD fellow successfully defended her thesis on 30 November 2016, at the University of Groningen. Her work provides new leads for product development targeted at the elderly. 

Grandmother likes an extra tablespoon of sugar in her tea, and grandfather wants his potatoes with a heavy sprinkling of salt. In fact, compared to younger adults, many elderly prefer foods with intense tastes. Researchers tend to think that decreased taste sensation in the elderly is related to changes in taste enjoyment. “However, we observed that healthy older adults sense tastes similarly to young adults, but show a preference for sweet and salty tastes”, stresses Hoogeveen.“ This is probably because taste enjoyment is dependent on more factors than taste sensation alone.”

Neuronal processes
Searching for a better understanding of taste enjoyment, Hoogeveen investigated the neuronal processes taking place from the moment the product touches the tongue and stimulates the taste buds to the moment people say how much they did, or did not, like the taste. She and her colleagues were the first (via functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to measure and compare brain activity in 39 healthy young adults (18-30 years of age) and 35 healthy elderly people (60 to 72 years of age), when tasting sweet, sour, salt and bitter at different concentrations.

In contrast to earlier findings, Hoogeveen found no activity differences in brain areas involved in taste sensations between the young adults and the elderly. This indicates that aging per se is not necessarily related to changes in taste sensation. However, brain areas involved in memory and emotions did show differences between the two age groups. “In elderly these areas showed higher activity, which might explain the differences in product appreciation between them and younger participants.”

Hoogeveen also investigated how the amount and composition of saliva affects taste processing in the brain. “Mucin concentration, as a proxy for saliva viscosity, was related to activity in a brain area that codes for taste intensity”, she says. “Perhaps this finding could impact salt and sugar reduction tools.”

Optimizing products
According to the PhD fellow, much food product development currently focuses on how foods can retard the aging process. “In addition to this focus on the nutritional value of food products, there should be just as much attention on optimizing the appreciation of products by the elderly”, she stresses. “Our work indicates the need for such research.”

Hoogeveen, who is looking for a position as a researcher in the food industry, experienced her time at TiFN as very inspiring. “It is challenging to translate fundamental outcomes into practical applications. In this project industry partners and scientists communicated concisely and effectively to bridge this gap, providing valuable outcomes for us all.”



Improving the stability of foams and emulsions

28 November 2016 – Particles that combine a hard core with a soft shell create an emulsifier that substantially improves the stability of foams and emulsions. This is the outcome of research by TiFN PhD fellow and physical chemist Christian Buchcic, who defended his thesis on September 14th, at Wageningen University. His work suggests new opportunities for increasing the shelf life of, for example, cappuccino foam and chocolate mousse.

Among food manufacturers, interest is growing in the use of particles as stabilizers for foams and emulsions. “Particle-stabilized foams and emulsions have a high stability, and are more resistant to oxidation than conventional surfactant emulsions, such as mono-acylglycerols, caseins and bèta-lactoglobulin”, explains Buchcic. “Moreover, particle-stabilized emulsions can be used as controlled-release systems of, for example, flavours.”

Hard versus soft particles
Using hard particles for the stabilization of fluid interfaces is known as Pickering Stabilization. The advantage of hard particles over surfactants and polymers, is that fluid interfaces can be effectively stabilized against Ostwald Ripening – an undesired process in which large bubbles or droplets grow at the expense of smaller ones; a process which can ultimately lead to phase separation in foams and emulsions. The disadvantage, when used as interfacial stabilizers, is that hard particles need a lot of energy to create a foam or emulsion. Moreover, hard particles are very specific with regard to the type of fluid interface to which they can adsorb. Soft particles, on the other hand, are known as good stabilizers, able to resist coalescence and spontaneously adsorb to a variety of different fluid interfaces.

The best of both
In his PhD project – a part of TiFN’s Food Structuring programme – Buchcic investigated the interfacial behaviour of core-shell particles with a hard core and soft shell, and their ability to act as the sole stabilizers for foams and emulsions. “We showed that, as expected, core-shell particles with a hard core and a soft shell combined the advantages of hard and soft particles”, he says. “In the case of oil-water interfaces they can perform better than solely hard particles as interfacial stabilizers.”

The soft shell enables spontaneous adsorption to a variety of fluid interfaces. Despite their spontaneous adsorption, core-shell particles strongly anchor and do not spontaneously desorb from the fluid interface.” Additionally, the hard core gives the core-shell particles enough rigidity for a stress-bearing, interfacial particle network to form. This network eventually prevents Ostwald Ripening in oil-in-water emulsions.

Creating food-grade particles
Buchcic worked with particles comprising polystyrene cores and soft poly-N-isopropyl acrylamide shells. The next research step would be to create particles with similar structures, using food-grade materials, and test whether they offer similar benefits. “Think, for example, of particles based on proteins.”

One big adventure
Buchcic experienced his time at TiFN as one big adventure: “I was allowed the freedom to dive deeply into a topic which interests me and our industry partners. TiFN also provided me with the opportunities to discuss my work with many stakeholders from academia and industry”, he says. “I learned a lot – as a researcher and as a person.” The physicist is looking for another academic position, to begin in 2017, preferably in the field of foams, emulsions and interfaces.



Wouter-Jan Schouten joins TiFN

1 November 2016 – As of November 1,  Wouter-Jan Schouten joins TiFN as Theme Director Food Chain Sustainability & Dynamics.

Wouter-Jan has 24 years of experience in management consulting, mostly in the food industry and increasingly focused on sustainability. During his long career at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) he has worked with many of our business partners. With BCG he also supported the Topsector Agri & Food in developing the sector agenda in 2011.

After he left BCG in 2013, Wouter-Jan has dedicated his career to driving sustainability in food systems. He will combine his role at TiFN with his role as senior advisor at NewForesight, a specialized consulting firm that is supporting many sustainability platforms in the food sector. At NewForesight he continues to work with a number of our business partners, for example in the development of the Dairy Sustainability Framework in the global dairy sector.

Wouter-Jan’s network and experience in the food industry combined with his passion for driving sustainability will be highly valuable for takingTiFN’s research portfolio on food chain sustainability to the next level.




Solving the secret of a healthy mouth

14 October 2016 – Healthy mouths differ greatly from each other in their saliva and microbiota composition. Applying machine-learning algorithms to complex –omics data can help people implement personalized prevention approaches to oral disorders into their daily dental hygiene. This is the main conclusion of research by TiFN PhD fellow Sultan Imangaliyev. The computational biologist defended his thesis on October 14, at the University of Amsterdam. His work has provided leads for the development of next-generation strategies to maintain and improve oral health. 

In Europe, dental care is one of society’s three highest medical costs. Although people visit the dentist, on average, once or twice a year, oral diseases remain one the most common diseases worldwide, with a large number of adults and the elderly suffering from periodontitis, gingivitis and caries. It is unclear why some people have a ‘healthy mouth’, and others – despite proper hygiene – still have oral health issues.

Machine learning
TiFN’s Oral Health research programme focusses on the biological interactions between saliva, oral microbiota and the human defence system – studies that provide huge amounts of complex data which cannot be analysed via conventional statistical methods such as Principal Component Analysis. Instead, Imangaliyev creatively applied a range of modern machine learning approaches, including single-view machine learning, multi-view machine learning and deep learning. Multi-view machine learning techniques, unlike single-view, take advantage of multiple data sources, integrating them in a single model, so maximizing the overall model performance. Deep-learning techniques extract the most useful variable representations via series of nonlinear transformations computed in multiple layers of deep, artificial neural networks. “Although machine learning and descriptive statistics both recognize patterns in large datasets, machine learning is able to use these recurring patterns to predict future data. This helps to save money and time by, for example, avoiding treatments which might not work”, Imangaliyev explains.

First steps towards understanding
“Machine learning has helped us to take a first step towards understanding what makes a mouth healthy. From an ecosystemic point of view, a healthy mouth is a system where all the components are in dynamic homeostasis”, says the scientist. “A disease is a result of a dysbiotic ecological shift caused not by a single microorganism, but by a network of interacting species.” Via application of machine learning to metabolomics, metagenomics and biochemistry data, Imangaliyev and his colleagues identified subgroups of healthy individuals with different compositions of oral microbiota and salivary biochemicals. “We also carried out a clinical trial in which people did not brush their teeth for two weeks. After only two days, some of them had significant amounts of plaque whereas others still had smooth, clean teeth”, says the scientist.

Targeted approach
Follow-up research is needed but, according to Imangaliyev, there is clearly no magic bullet for improving oral health: “Dentistry needs to adopt a more targeted, personalized approach in the prevention of, for example, gingivitis.” Imangaliyev is content with the research and its outcomes. “Applying machine learning on such a large panel of heterogeneous datasets is unique in oral health research, as is TiFN’s approach of focussing on healthy rather than diseased people”, he says.

The computational biologist, who will continue his career as a post-doc scientist at the VU Medical Centre, experienced his time at TiFN as an exciting rollercoaster-ride. “I learned a lot about biological systems, and improved my personal skills”, he says. “Biological systems do not come with a user manual. You have to find out yourself how they work and then fix them yourself. This requires courage and perseverance.”



How human genes affect the microbiome

12 October 2016 – Our genes determine to some extent which bacteria live in our intestines. Studies on human twins and experimental work with animals have both confirmed that our microbiome is partly hereditary. Although, so far, there was only limited information about the host genes that affect the microbiome. Now a new study, led by the University Medical Center Groningen/University of Groningen Department of Genetics has associated genetic loci and specific genes in human DNA to bacterial species and their metabolic signatures. The results have been published in the journal Nature Genetics on October 3rd.

An international team of geneticists used three large Dutch cohort studies to identify genes affecting the microbiome. First, an association study was performed in the University Medical Center Groningen’s Lifelines-DEEP cohort, on 984 participants. Stool samples from this cohort were analyzed by metagenomic sequencing, which was used both to identify micro-organisms and to help determine their functions. These data were then correlated to genetic, phenotype and dietary information from all the participants. Next, the results were replicated in two smaller Dutch cohorts: the University of Nijmegen’s 500FG study cohort (425 participants) and the University of Maastricht’s MIBS cohort (105 participants).

‘To our knowledge this is the largest metagenome dataset to date’, says first author Marc Jan Bonder. ‘And the use of metagenomic sequencing to get information about both the abundances of the micro-organisms and their functions makes this study unique. We were able, in this large population of  volunteers, to link microbial variation to genetic variation.’

One particularly interesting finding was the association between genetic variants that determine the presence of lactase in adults and the presence of Bifidobacterium in the gut. Lactase deficiency causes lactose intolerance. ‘Surprisingly enough, we found no difference in overall milk intake by individuals with or without the hypolactasia predisposing genotype’, says principal investigator Dr. Alexandra Zhernakova. But, for individuals without the functional lactase gene, the numbers of Bifidobacterium increased with a higher consumption of dairy products.

A possible explanation for these results is that Bifidobacterium, which can break down lactose, rescues lactase-deficient individuals from lactose intolerance. ‘As the bacterium is ingested through milk, it appears that these individuals can actually continue drinking milk if it causes no complaints’, says Zhernakova.

Another association was found with variants of the C-type lectin genes. These genes code for receptors that recognize different species of bacteria and fungi, and they guide the cytokine response to these micro-organisms. Zhernakova: ‘These receptors are part of the innate immune system. Several other innate immunity genes also showed association with certain taxonomies and bacterial pathways, although these associations were weaker. This means the C-type lectin receptors could be an interesting target for treatments aimed at modifying the microbiome’.

The scientists also looked for association with specific genes from the HLA system, which is part of the body’s adaptive immune system that is developed through encounters with micro-organisms. ‘Surprisingly, gene variants from the HLA system showed very little correlation with the microbiome’, says Zhernakova.

This study provides a first glimpse into how our genes affect the microbiome. Such correlations are of interest for many multifactorial diseases that are affected by genes, the microbiome, and environmental factors like diet. Bonder: ‘This type of research will also help us to provide personalized health advice, for example, what we can now tell individuals with lactase deficiency.’

This study was made possible through a national collaboration between researchers and clinicians in the Universities of Groningen, Nijmegen and Maastricht, and the LifeLines cohort study, 500FG cohort study and MIBS study (the Netherlands). This work was financed by TiFN, Cardiovasculair Onderzoek Nederland (CVON), the ‘Nederlandse organisatie voor wetenschappelijk onderzoek’ (NWO) and the European Research Council (ERC).

3d macro render of bacteria under the microscope


TiFN Symposium 29 November: Sensory and liking – Inspiration for application

29 September 2016 – On November 29 TiFN will organise a symposium in Groningen titled ‘Sensory and Liking – Inspiration for application’. The symposium speakers present and discuss the scientific highlights and industrial relevancy achieved in the TiFN ‘Sensory and Liking’ project.

In the one-day program we aim to discuss the interplay between sensory systems and food-related emotions, new measurement methodologies to study food-related emotions and neuronal activity with fMRI, the impact of age, gender and health on taste and odor perception, and implications for product development. The symposium is accessible for researchers in the field of food science, industrial partners of TiFN, and other interested parties.


You can find all the details in the Symposium Leaflet.





PhD research provides new leads against obesity and type 2 diabetes

26 September 2016 – Infusion of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) into the colon increases fat oxidation and energy expenditure in overweight people. This is the key message from research by Dr Emanuel Canfora, who defended his thesis Friday 23 September at Maastricht University. His work provides leads for the prevention and treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The gastrointestinal microbiota and its products are thought to be involved in the development of metabolic disorders such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. The microbiota ferment indigestible foods, leading to the production of a variety of metabolites, including the SCFAs acetate, propionate and butyrate. “According to animal studies, SCFA are involved in the regulation of body weight and insulin sensitivity and may, at least in part, explain the beneficial metabolic effects of dietary-fibre intake”, says Canfora.

Microbiota, energy balance and metabolism
Canfora investigated whether these effects also applied to humans. He studied correlations and underlying mechanisms, combining short and long-term, in vivo, human intervention studies, with a range of in vitro experiments with stem cells derived from human adipose tissue (hMADS). 

Increased fat oxidation
The research demonstrated that SCFA infusions in the distal, but not proximal, colon increased fat oxidation, energy expenditure, blood levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone PYY and attenuated whole-body lipolysis. “However, in a longer-term, 12-week intervention study with fibre supplements, we were unable to demonstrate an increase in faecal and fasting plasma SCFA, following a fibre-rich diet, in obese, pre-diabetic participants”, stresses Canfora. In addition, the researchers could not detect beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and on parameters of energy metabolism. “A reason for the lack of effects could be related to the site of fibre fermentation, which is likely to occur, primarily, in the proximal part of the colon.”

Canfora, therefore, asks for different strategies, focussing on enhancing SCFA in the distal colon and systemic circulation, via intake of food product and ingredients. “These insights would accelerate the development of advanced supplements and therapies against obesity and diabetes.” The scientist will continue this research as a post-doc at Maastricht University.

New pathways
The PhD work also revealed new insights into the processes taking place in human adipose tissue. “We were able to further characterize pathways for the breakdown of fatty acids in these cells. For instance, we demonstrated that the SCFA acetate, decreases intracellular lipolysis via attenuated hormone-sensitive lipase phosphorylation. SCFA therefore might affect adipose tissue lipid-buffering capacity and lipid spillover. This could ultimately result in attenuated ectopic fat accumulation and improved insulin action in insulin sensitive tissues. Consequently, enhancing the systemic acetate availability might be a strategy to improve obesity-related insulin resistance.”

Canfora highly values the close collaboration between scientists of varying disciplines at TiFN. “In the first study, for example, our aim was to study/identify the effects of SCFA at different sites in the colon”, he says. “Together with specialists from our academic hospital, of which a number were also involved with TiFN, we found a practical approach using endoscopy tools.”

As a PhD fellow, he also appreciated his proximity to the food industry. “It was fascinating to see, up close, how industry works, and the expert meetings inspired my research.”




Energy extraction of obese microbiota: PhD research sheds new light

21 September 2016 – One theory concerning the onset of obesity is that the microbiota of obese people are capable of extracting extra energy from the diet compared to the microbiota of lean people. Dr Marisol Aguirre Morales demonstrated, in her PhD research, that the reality is not so black and white. She defended her thesis on July 4, 2016, at Maastricht University.

“Previous evidence of enhanced energy extraction via obese microbiota mainly comes from mice studies”, says Aguirre Morales, who received a bonus from TiFN for finishing her PhD project within four years. “We were among the first to study (in vitro) this aspect in humans, doing so via an advanced human gastrointestinal model.”

The Colombian PhD fellow saw that, in humans, energy extraction depends on the diet. “The microbiota of obese people was unable to extract more energy when fermenting pectins compared to the lean microbiota. However, it was the other way around for galacto-oligosaccharides, lactulose, arabinogalactan and inulin”, she explains.

TIM-2 gastrointestinal model
For her studies, the scientist made use of TNO’s TIM-2 model, which closely mimics processes in the gastrointestinal tract. “This allowed us to intimately investigate microbe-diet interactions and to measure how fast the composition of the microbiota can change”, she says. “Changes were already visible only 24 hours after consumption of a particular diet.” The findings are an excellent starting point for creating a large database of microbe-diet interactions, which would simplify and accelerate screening of new and existing food ingredients.

Together with other members of TIFN’s GH-004 (Food-induced modulation of the intestinal immune barrier) project team, Aguirre Morales also considered how to further optimize models simulating the human gut.

“It is important to improve these models, as it will increase their ecological significance and their physiological relevance”, she stresses. Inclusion of a source of mucin, adapting test diets and controls and setting specific operational conditions are some of the ideas proposed for such optimization. “We will present these, and more, ideas in a review in the peer-reviewed journal Beneficial Microbes.”

Valuable experience
Aguirre Morales, who is currently available for a new research opportunity in gut microbiology, nutrition and health, was inspired by her time at TiFN. “As a PhD fellow I participated in expert meetings, with senior scientists, industry partners and professors, and I was treated as an equal. Hearing all these different points of view has been very instructive for me”, she explains. “I was challenged to think about the impact of my research and to communicate my ideas in a clear and appealing way – skills I’ll be taking into the next phase of my career.”




Toine Timmermans leaves TiFN

19 September 2016 –Toine Timmermans will resign as Theme Director Food Chain Sustainability & Dynamics shortly. In the past five years Toine was one of the driving forces that developed topics related to sustainability into a full-fledged theme within TiFN. Evaluations show that the projects within the theme provide valuable new insights for society, science and industry.

After his departure Toine will focus on his activities at Wageningen UR. We look forward to continue working together with him in this new form and we thank him for the great work he has done for TiFN. Here at TiFN we will continue to work to expand this important theme. Until a successor for Toine is found, Marian Geluk  will take over his TiFN responsibilities.





Guidelines for increased resource-efficiency

8 September 2016 – A new tool for the food industry to measure environmental performance and determine how they can improve processes and production chains is the outcome of research by TiFN’s PhD fellow Dr Filippos Zisopoulos. He defended his thesis September 7, 2016 at Wageningen University. His work offers the industry new guidelines for sustainable-chains design.

Around the world more and more companies are looking to increase resource-efficiency throughout their processes and production chains. This is a challenging task, however, as so many factors need to be considered. Exergy is an objective metric in the assessment of resource efficiency. “It is based on the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and it quantifies the available work that can be extracted from a stream or a process in relation to a selected reference environment, explains Zisopoulos. “The concept is popular in the energy and construction sectors, but has not yet been fully exploited in the food industry.”

Bread, mushrooms and drying

The PhD fellow carried out three case studies in order to define general rules that could help in the design of more-sustainable processes. He used industrial-bread production, mushroom cultivation and a conventional, energy-consuming, drying process. “We wanted to pinpoint the exergy-inefficient locations and gain an understanding of the reasons for these inefficiencies.”

Zisopoulos learnt that closing-mass balances should be the first priority in improving the resource-efficiency of a food production chain. “Unused material side-streams translate into wasting considerable amounts of chemical exergy”, he explains. “Moreover, recycling material streams to create new products can improve the efficiency of the chain but only as long as it comes at a reasonable additional exergy cost for re-processing.” He also learned that decisions regarding chain improvement should be based on the nature and size of the exergy losses.

General rules

Based on these findings, Zisopoulos defined a set of general rules that food manufacturers can use when they want to increase resource efficiency in their processes and production chains. The PhD fellow, who is currently working as a research assistant at Wageningen University, is proud of this outcome: “The guidelines have been developed in close agreement with TiFN’s industry partners and are easily applicable to current business processes. Moreover, it pleases me that my work is recognized as valuable.”

Zisopoulos, open for new job opportunities in academia or industry, looks back on his TiFN time with pleasure. “This project has been a really great team job. There was a good match with the partners and also within the project team, with easy-going communication and people determined to get along very well with each other.”

The thesis can be found here.





Annual Conference 2016: Springboard for innovation

29 June 2016 – The industrial value of collaboration within TiFN was the central theme of the 7th Annual Conference, held June 1st in Wageningen. Industry partners shared the impact of the latest TiFN-generated scientific insights with the audience of around 100, who enjoyed an inspiring, informative day extending knowledge and networks.

The Annual Conference, now in its 7th year, is open to TiFN research and industry partners only. The 2016 programme included lectures, publication pitches and interactive breakout sessions – organized together with AgriFoodTop, TKI Agri&Food’s key networking event – and allowed participants to immerse themselves in current issues such as immunology and allergy, the biology behind perceivable consumer benefits and improvement of product and process quality by structure. The event also saw the award of TiFN’s annual Publication Prize, and the Dutch final of Ecotrophelia, a food-design competition for students.

New research projects
“We have entered a new phase and are moving ahead strongly”, said Marian Geluk, MSc, Managing Director at TiFN. “Our current research portfolio and pipeline – worth around 35 million Euros – is strong across all our themes.” TiFN is in the middle of setting up two new research programmes, in collaboration with NWO-ALW and TKI Agri&Food. “These will focus on safeguarding product quality while using new sustainable sources, and unravelling the biology behind perceivable consumer benefits.”

Lectures by industry partners – Hester Klein Lankhorst from the Netherlands Institute for Sustainable Packaging (KIDV), Dr Marcel Wubbolts from DSM, Dr Margrethe Jonkman from FrieslandCampina and Dr Hanno Cappon from Danone – highlighted how TiFN functions as a springboard for innovation. “Working together multiplies your research investment financially and intellectually, as long as you have clearly defined your strategy first. Then, you can seize the opportunities out there”, said Cappon.

Research carried out via TiFN can have a great impact on society. Illustrative is the work done in the area of Muscle Health and Function, which supports Danone Nutricia in the development of products that, for example, reduce loss of muscle mass in the elderly and help improve rehabilitation after surgery. As Cappon put it: “Industrial relevance is societal relevance in a healthy economic equation.”

For a photo impression of the Annual Conference, click here.




PhD research reveals potential role of Stevia in inducing satiety hormones

20 June 2016 – Rebaudioside-A, responsible for the sweetness of Stevia, might induce the release of gut hormones involved in feelings of satiety. This is just one of the conclusions from Dr Nikkie van der Wielen’s PhD research. Her results provide future directions to investigate the role of Stevia in preventing or treating obesity and (pre-)diabetes.   

Secretion of gut hormones, such as satiety-inducing GLP-1, is usually influenced by nutrient ingestion. Dietary components interact with receptors and transporters in the enteroendocrine cells of the intestinal tract, inducing the release of these hormones – a process called nutrient sensing.

Van der Wielen examined these processes, studying hormone release in vitro. “Cell lines are not always representative of how the intestine works in vivo; cell lines usually represent only one cell type, whereas in the intestine different cell types are present, possibly interacting with each other”, she says. The PhD fellow developed an alternative approach, using organoids. “These are miniature, cultured intestines more similar to normal intestines”, she explains. “We have developed an organoid method that allows easy stimulation with nutrients and measurement of their hormone secretion.”   

Van der Wielen observed that gene expression of receptors, transporters and peptides involved in nutrient sensing, showed a distinctive distribution pattern along the small intestine. “In mice, pigs and humans, similarity was highest in the distal intestine”, she says. In people who had lost weight after bariatric surgery, the nutrient sensing-related gene expression in the proximal (upper) part of the gastrointestinal tract saw only minimal changes. There was, however, considerable reduction in inflammatory pathways.

Van der Wielen’s work confirmed that rebaudioside-A from Stevia induces the release of GLP-1, an intestinal hormone that induces feelings of satiety and increases insulin release. “The effects appeared not to be mediated via the sweetness receptor”, she stresses, “we still aim to discover the receptor involved and are currently looking at some bitter-taste receptors.”

Van der Wielen, currently working as a post-doc scientist at Wageningen University, is happy to have worked for TiFN. “It is a very stimulating environment, with a lot of opportunities for extra courses and training, and close collaboration with other PhD fellows and food industries.”

Teenage girl with heat pad on stomach


Understanding lubrication and perception of foods

20 June 2016 – New insight into the rheological and tribological behaviour of particles in liquid and semi-solid foods, and their effects on food perception, is the main outcome of Kun Liu’s PhD project.

Both structural and textural perception of foods undergo dynamic changes during mastication. These changes are influenced by the rheological (large deformation & viscosity) and tribological (lubrication) properties of the foods.

Liu studied the relationship between these properties and the sensory perception of different foods. “Imagine the ball-bearing system which makes so many parts of a modern bicycle run smoothly”, she explains. “I investigated ball-bearing mechanisms of microparticles in liquid model foods, which represent milk or other dairy drinks, as well as solid model foods, which represent cheese or sausages.”

Previous research focussed on only one type of food systems, either solid or liquid. “I was the first to study and compare both types, in order to identify similarities and differences between the two”, the scientist explains. ”The interaction between the food particles and the solid food matrix has a large influence on the rheological, tribological and the sensory properties of foods.”

Morphology, size, and deformability of food particles appear to determine the lubrication behaviour of the foods. “Spherical particles with a few micrometres in size, such as microparticulated whey protein, reduced friction through a ball-bearing-like process; irregularly-shaped particles, such as uncooked rice starch, increased friction as their irregularity also increased their surface contacts”, she illustrates. “Deformable particles could flatten the surface by evening-out asperity (the term used in materials science for unevenness) and coalescence of unstable droplets could plate-out on the surface and form film patches; both mechanisms reduced friction”. Other structural elements, such as emulsifiers and sticky molecules, also affected tribological properties by influencing the surface interaction between the structure elements and the surfaces.

Prediction of sensory perception

The work offers the industry new ways to develop and optimise products. “Based on the findings, I developed a model that allows prediction of sensory perception of particle-filled foods, based on their rheological and tribological properties”, says Liu. “It can be applied to a wide range of products, from dairy to meat.”

The scientist, nominated for the TiFN’s annual Publication Prize, is very enthusiastic about her time as a PhD fellow at TiFN. “I enjoyed the freedom to go to conferences and workshops, and the opportunity to promote my research and discuss my work with researchers globally.”

Round creamy cheese, with a wedge cut out, isolated on white background.



Sasha Zhernakova wins Publication Prize 2015

8 June 2016 – Sasha Zhernakova won TiFN’s Publication Prize 2015 at the Annual Conference. Her three minutes pitch recieved the most votes from the audience. Ten publications from all research themes were nominated. Zhernakova’s publication (abstract here) presents the finding of a large-scale TiFN-study into the effect of food and medicine on the bacterial diversity in the human gut, which is published in the prestigious research journal Science.

Everything you eat or drink affects your intestinal bacteria, and is likely to have an impact on your health. In this study researchers collected stool samples from more than 1100 people taking part in the LifeLines programme, which is monitoring the health of 165,000 residents of the Northern Netherlands. The samples were used to analyse the DNA of the bacteria and other organisms that live in the gut. In addition to stools, the study collected information on the participants’ diet, medicine-use and health.

This study is unique in that it focussed on a group of normal people whereas previous research was frequently focussed on patients with a specific illness. Further, the study covered an exceptionally large group of people and studied their gut DNA in detail. “Normally researchers only investigate one particular region of DNA in which different groups of bacteria can be distinguished,” Wijmenga explains. “We have mapped all the bacterial DNA to gain much more detailed information about bacteria types.”

This DNA analysis made it possible to examine which factors impact the diversity of the microbiome (the intestinal bacterial community unique to each of us). And that appears to be many. Wijmenga says, “You see, for example, the effect of diet in the gut.” People who regularly consume yogurt or buttermilk have a greater diversity of gut bacteria. Coffee and wine can increase the diversity as well, while whole milk or a high-calorie diet can decrease it.

“In total we found 60 dietary factors that influence the diversity. What these mean exactly is still hard to say,” explains Zhernakova. “But there is a good correlation between diversity and health: greater diversity is better.”

Beyond diet, at least 19 different kinds of medicine – some of which are widely used –have an impact on microbiome diversity. An earlier study by Groningen researchers has shown that antacids decrease this diversity, while antibiotics and the diabetes drug metformin also have an effect. These are important findings Wijmenga stresses, “Disease often occurs as the result of many factors. Most of these factors, like your genes or your age, are not things you can change. But you can change the diversity of your microbiome through adapting your diet or medication. When we understand how this works, it will open up new possibilities.”




Understanding diet-induced metabolic dysfunction

8 June 2016 – Eating large amounts of animal fat and a high-cholesterol diet contribute to metabolic dysfunction in liver and fat tissue. Inflammation of fat tissue is the most damaging contributor to the development of type 2 diabetes – an insight that could be used to develop and improve targeted therapies. This is the key outcome of the work of TiFN’s PhD fellow Dr Roel van der Heijden. He defended his thesis May 23, 2016 at the University of Groningen. 

Obesity is a worldwide issue, causing c. 2.8 million deaths per year. Dietary intervention doesn’t work, so it is important to understand, at the metabolic level, how obesity and obesity-related diseases, develop over time.

Investigating these processes in humans is difficult, due to their slow progression and people appearing to be symptom-free for many years. Van der Heijden worked with mice, for their short lifespan. “I investigated how high concentrations of animal fat and cholesterol contribute to a disturbed metabolism in fat and liver tissue respectively how these disturbances contribute to increased concentrations of inflammation markers and lipids in the blood”, he explains. “I also explored how these blood values contribute to future damage to the vascular system.”

Van der Heijden saw that only 24 weeks on a diet high in animal fat already increased blood levels of inflammatory markers. Enriching the high-fat diet with anti-inflammatory polyphenols (epicatechin and anthocyanins) did not have a lasting positive impact on inflammatory markers. “In the case of a high-cholesterol diet, however, enrichment with polyphenols was able to attenuate some of these markers and halt the progression of vascular disease”, he stresses. “This underlines the importance of identifying the dietary triggers for metabolic dysfunction, and the organ assessed.”

Interdisciplinary approach
The PhD recommends an interdisciplinary approach to the prevention and treatment of obesity and obesity-related diseases. “In addition to diet, aspects like genetic disposition, ageing and the composition of the microbiota, probably have roles in metabolic dysfunction.”



Controlling spore-forming bacteria in food processing

8 June 2016 – Heat-resistant spore-forming bacteria are a major difficulty for the food industry. Dr Erwin Berendsen has discovered new approaches to the problem; he defended his thesis on 3 June at the University of Groningen.

Spore-forming bacteria are an established cause of food spoilage. Manufacturers trying to prevent spoilage are heating food products to temperatures higher than 100 °C. This approach, however, is often ineffective as certain bacterial spores are strongly heat-resistant. Berendsen investigated the spore heat-resistance of 14 lab and industrial strains within the common B. subtilis group and was able to distinguish two specific responses. “The first group displayed very low heat-resistance, being inactivated after a one-hour heat treatment at 100 °C”, he illustrates. “The second group showed very high heat-resistance, with almost all spores surviving the same heat treatment.” This contrasted with what was expected: that the contrast between high and low-resistance would be less marked.

Jumping genes
Berendsen identified links between heat-resistance of spores and features of the bacterial genome. “We discovered that strains with high heat-resistant spores had specific genes in their DNA, the spoVA2mob operon”, he explains. Remarkably, this spoVA2mob operon was present on a transposon – a ‘jumping genetic element’ and thereby able to move from one strain to another.

The results underline the importance of detecting strains with spores of high heat-resistance and preventing genes from ‘jumping’. “Manufacturers can, for example, decide for extra pre-treatment before heating of ingredients that often contain high heat-resistant spores, such as herbs and spices, before adding them to the rest of the product recipe.”

Challenged to think differently
Berendsen is continuing his research career at TNO, focussing on detection and identification of micro-organisms. He really values his experience as a PhD fellow at TiFN: “For the first time, I found myself working hand-in-hand with research institutes and manufacturers – a unique position”, he says. “I was doing fundamental research, but I was regularly challenged to think about the applicability of my work; this is crucial in my new position at TNO.”



New logo marks new phase

26 May 2016 – As of 1 june 2016 we have changed our name into TiFN. A new logo and house style mark the new phase of our institute. 

TI Food and Nutrition was founded in 1997 as the independent technological top institute Wageningen Centre for Food Sciences (WCFS). With the finalization of the so called FES funds of Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2016, the “brand” top institute ceases to exist. The TiFN partners wish to continue to collaborate, so TiFN has reformed to continue to deliver on its promise: scientific excellence and industrial relevance.

Taking it a step further, at the end of the day TiFN research is directed to make life better, for society, for you and for me. Whether it is to contribute to the prevention of development of food & lifestyle related diseases or to significant contributions in the transition to a sustainable production of food.

So, TI Food and Nutrition is proud to announce its new name, which is already so well known: TiFN.




What is the chain’s environmental impact?

26 May 2016 – TiFN has developed a simulation model in the ‘Valorisation of Raw Materials and Process Efficiency’ project which gives a verdict on the environmental impact of a process, product or chain based on exergy. Exergy is a measure of the total consumption of energy, raw materials, water, chemicals and by-products. The less exergy that is lost, the greater the raw material efficiency and thus the lower the  environmental impact.

The complete production chain is represented in the TEM model (TiFN Exergy and Multicriteria Decision-Making Model) and allows scenarios to be extrapolated. What would happen if different raw materials were used? What would be the environmental impact of a new step in the process? What would be the effect of processing the residue flows (differently)? What would happen if distribution were organised differently? The model also illustrates the financial effects and the consequences in terms of production quality. By this means, companies can make fast, straightforward assessments of the investments that might be of interest to them. The project has analysed production chains in collaboration with the business community, focussing in particular on chip production, the bread chain, the mushroom chain and the vegetables chain. In the latter case, a comparison was made between seasonal, imported and deep-frozen vegetables.

C4C: “Simply mapping this out has proved a learning curve in itself”
Caroline van der Horst, R&D manager at the substrate producer for the mushroom growers C4C, has also tested the TEM Model: “Continued efforts for increasing sustainability are unavoidable. The processing of residue flows is a key business for us. A model that’s able to help us further optimise that business is always welcome. ‘Playing’ with the model is even more educational. All at once you can investigate options that you’d never get to test in practice because they’d have too great an impact on production.”



Reducing loss of fresh produce

26 May 2016 – A model has been developed in the project entitled ‘Reduction of Spoilage in Fresh and Chilled Products’ that helps supermarkets and suppliers to limit the loss of fresh produce. The model provides information on the effects of specific technology, logistical measures and marketing measures. Users can use this knowledge, for example, to organise  the ordering process differently or to ascertain in which direction they might want to invest where a solution is offered.

The models have been developed using field data from the chains for meat and iceberg lettuce. Thanks to the unique design, the model structure can be employed for other chains with relative ease and can cater to specific conditions within a chain. The project has developed a  library of model components that will soon become freely available. Consequently, consultants and researchers will be theoretically able to make a precise model for each fresh food chain.

Albert Heijn: “Optimised ordering process”
Albert Heijn is one of the two retailers involved in development of the Decision Support Model. Peter Werre, Project Manager for Strategic Sourcing Support at Albert Heijn: “Limiting food wastage has been a hot topic at our outlets for years. This TiFN project has enabled us to put our ordering process under the spotlight. It spurred us on to e valuate our ordering algorithm and to mak e adjustments where necessary. As a result, we have created a fresh opportunity to drive back food wastage still further.”





1 June: Annual Conference TiFN

On 1 June TiFN will organise the seventh edition of the Annual Conference in Wageningen (Hotel de Wageningsche Berg, Generaal Foulkesweg 96, 6703 DS Wageningen). This year several partners will give their view on cooperation within TiFN and share insights in recent scientific developments. Eleven authors will compete for the Publication Prize 2015. Of course there will also be plenty of time to catch up with colleageus and to meet new people. The afternoon session of the Annual Conference is organised together with the AgriFoodTop, the network event of TKI Agri & Food.

You find the full programme of the Annual Conference here.

annual conference 2016


Nominations TiFN Publication Prize 2015

26 May 2016 – Every year, TiFN awards a publication prize to recognise the best scientific publication. This year, for the first time, eleven authors will present their presentation at the Annual Conference (1 june, Wageningen) in a short pitch. The audience will decide who will be the winner of the Publication Prize 2015.

The nominees are:

  • Gijsbers L, Dower JI, Mensink M, Siebelink E, Bakker SJ and Geleijnse JM Effects of sodium and potassium supplementation on blood pressure and arterial stiffness: a fully controlled dietary intervention study. Journal of Human Hypertension, 29, 592 – 598. doi: 10.1038/jhh.2015.3 Abstract can be found here
  • Zhernakova A, Kurilshikov A, Bonder MJ, Tigchelaar EF, Schirmer M, Vatanen T, Mujagic Z, Vich A, Falony G, Vieira-Silva S, Wang J, Imhann F, Brandsma E, Jankipersadsin SA, Joossens M, Cenit MC, Deelen P, Swertz MA, Weersma RK, Feskens EJM, Netea MG, Gevers D, Jonkers D, Franke L, Aulchenko YS, Huttenhower C, Raes J, Hofker MH, Xavier RJ Wijmenga C and Fu J Population-based metagenomics analysis reveals markers for gut microbiome composition and diversity. Science, 352, 565 – 569. doi:10.1126/science.aad3369 Abstract can be found here
  • Hangelbroek RWJ, Fazelzadeh P, Tieland M, Boekschoten MV, Hooiveld GJEJ, Van Duynhoven JPM, Timmons J, Verdijk LB, De Groot LCPGM, Van Loon LJC and Muller M Expression of protocadherin gamma in skeletal muscle tissue is associated with age and muscle weakness. doi:10.1002/jcm.12009 Abstract can be found here
  • Backx EMP, Tieland M, Borgonjen-van den Berg KJ, Claessen PR, Van Loon LJC and De Groot LCPGM Protein intake and lean body mass preservation during energy intake restriction in overweight older adults. International Journal of Obesity, 40, 299 – 304. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2015.182 Abstract can be found here
  • Groen BBL, Horstman AMH, Hamer HM, De Haan M, Van Kranenburg J, Bierau J, Poeze M, Wodzig WKWH, Rasmussen BB and Van Loon LJC Post-prandial muscle protein synthesis: “You are what you just ate”. PLoS One, 10, e0141582. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141582 Abstract can be found here
  • Metselaar KI, Den Besten HMW, Boekhorst J, Van Hijum SAFT, Zwietering MH and Abee T Diversity of acid stress resistant variants of Listeria monocytogenes and the potential role of ribosomal protein. Frontiers in Microbiology, 2, 422. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.00422 Abstract can be found here
  • Berendsen EM, Boekhorst J, Kuipers OP and Wells-Bennik MHJ A mobile genetic element profoundly increases heat resistance of bacterial spores. International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal (ISME), 1 – 17. doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.59 Abstract can be found here
  • Rovers TAM, Sala G, Van der Linden E and Meinders MBJ Effect of temperature and pressure on the stability of protein microbubbles. ACS Applied materials and interfaces, 8, 333 – 340. doi: 10.1021/acsami.5b08527 Abstract can be found here
  • Liu K, Tian Y, Stieger M, Van der Linden E and Van de Velde F Evidence for ball-bearing mechanism of microparticulated whey protein as fat replacer in liquid and semi-sold multi-component model foods. Food Hydrocolloids, Abstract can be found here
  • Tromp S, Haijema R, Rijgersberg H and Van der Vorst J On preventing chilled-food waste at the retail outlet. International Journal of Production Economics, submitted
  • Van Gastelen S, Antunes-Fernandes EC, Hettinga KA, Klop G, Alferink SJJ, Hendriks WH and Dijkstra J Enteric methane production, rumen volatile fatty acid concentrations, and milk fatty acid composition in lactating Holstein-Friesian cows fed grass silage- or corn silage-based diets. Journal of Dairy Science, 98, 1915 – 1927. 10.3168/jds.2014-8552  Abstract can be found here



Exploring dietary influences on cardiovascular and renal health

11 May 2016 – A sodium-reduced diet and a diet high in potassium: both of them reduce blood pressure. But what happens when the two are combined in one diet? This was TiFN PhD fellow Ineke Riphagen’s research question. She identified that consuming extra potassium when someone is following a low sodium diet has only minor additional blood pressure-lowering effects.

Riphagen’s research has greatly increased our understanding of the mechanisms involved in blood-pressure lowering effects of potassium during sodium restriction.

Riphagen explored the effects of diet on blood pressure and fluid balance in a group of 35 subjects with high blood pressure. She combined several existing biomarkers, including copeptin, natriuretic peptides, renin and aldosterone. “We wanted a complete picture of the mechanisms at work”, she explains.

Counter-regulatory mechanisms
Potassium supplementation was found to have a relatively small blood pressure-lowering effect during sodium restriction. “The effects seemed mitigated by activation of several counter-regulatory mechanisms involved in regulation of fluid balance and blood pressure, such as vasopressin, the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) and heart rate”, says Riphagen.

In addition to high blood pressure, vascular calcification is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The calcification process is counteracted by the vitamin K-dependent Matrix Gla protein (MGP), a protein that stays inactive in case of vitamin K deficiency. Riphagen used MGP to measure how often people in the general population suffer from vitamin K deficiency. “The condition appeared to be surprisingly common, especially among elderly and patients with chronic diseases”, she says. Furthermore, vitamin K deficiency was associated with an increased mortality risk.

Constructive collaboration

The PhD fellow appreciated her time at TiFN. “The research was interesting and challenging, and I enjoyed the constructive collaboration with my colleagues,” she says. “Coming from different fields of expertise, everyone looked at issues from another perspective, which was very instructive.”




Science publication: Lifestyle strong impact on intestinal bacteria

2 May 2016 – Everything you eat or drink affects your intestinal bacteria, and is likely to have an impact on your health. That is the finding of a large-scale TiFN-study led by RUG/UMCG geneticist Cisca Wijmenga into the effect of food and medicine on the bacterial diversity in the human gut, which is published in the prestigious research journal Science (abstract here).

In this study researchers collected stool samples from more than 1100 people taking part in the LifeLines programme, which is monitoring the health of 165,000 residents of the Northern Netherlands. The samples were used to analyse the DNA of the bacteria and other organisms that live in the gut. In addition to stools, the study collected information on the participants’ diet, medicine-use and health.

This study is unique in that it focussed on a group of normal people whereas previous research was frequently focussed on patients with a specific illness. Further, the study covered an exceptionally large group of people and studied their gut DNA in detail. “Normally researchers only investigate one particular region of DNA in which different groups of bacteria can be distinguished,” Wijmenga explains. “We have mapped all the bacterial DNA to gain much more detailed information about bacteria types.”

This DNA analysis made it possible to examine which factors impact the diversity of the microbiome (the intestinal bacterial community unique to each of us). And that appears to be many. Wijmenga says, “You see, for example, the effect of diet in the gut.” People who regularly consume yogurt or buttermilk have a greater diversity of gut bacteria. Coffee and wine can increase the diversity as well, while whole milk or a high-calorie diet can decrease it.

“In total we found 60 dietary factors that influence the diversity. What these mean exactly is still hard to say,” explains UMCG researcher Alexandra Zhernakova, the first author of the Science article. “But there is a good correlation between diversity and health: greater diversity is better.”

Beyond diet, at least 19 different kinds of medicine – some of which are widely used –have an impact on microbiome diversity. An earlier study by Groningen researchers has shown that antacids decrease this diversity, while antibiotics and the diabetes drug metformin also have an effect. These are important findings Wijmenga stresses, “Disease often occurs as the result of many factors. Most of these factors, like your genes or your age, are not things you can change. But you can change the diversity of your microbiome through adapting your diet or medication. When we understand how this works, it will open up new possibilities.”

Recent research has demonstrated the importance of this. It is now possible to combat obesity through a ‘faecal transplantation’ in which the intestinal bacteria from a slender person are introduced into the gut of an obese patient. An appropriate diet or a specific medicine may produce the same effect on the microbiome.

Currently a lot of research is looking into the microbiome, but it often seems hard to reproduce. It is therefore striking that the results of a Belgian group published in the same issue of Science show about 80 percent agreement with those of the Groningen group. “The key is the way the research was done,” Wijmenga says. What was important was that the stool samples were frozen immediately by the participants themselves, and picked up by the researchers while still frozen. “When samples are sent in by post, as is often the case, you expose them to oxygen and high temperatures. These are conditions that some bacteria can’t survive in. These two Science articles have therefore set a new standard for future research in this field.”

Children's care



Understanding probiotic communication

29 April 2016 New insight into the way probiotic bacteria communicate with their host is the key outcome of the work by TiFN’s PhD fellow I-Chiao Lee. She defended her thesis at Wageningen University on 31 March 2016. Lee’s work also suggests directions for further investigation into probiotics’ mechanisms of action.

Around the world, probiotics are increasingly popular, as they are seen to be beneficial for health. The effects of these bacteria appear, however, to be highly species and/or strain specific. In-depth research into the molecular structure of probiotics and their communication with host cells is vital to understanding these differences, and to providing molecular-level insight into the mechanisms behind probiotic functions.

Lee’s research focussed on Lactobacillus plantarum WCFS1, a model strain for probiotic lactobacilli with a well-annotated genome sequence and sophisticated genetic engineering tools. It was her model of choice to study how molecules on the bacterial surface – known as envelope-effector molecules –including lipoteichoic acid (LTA), lipo and glycoproteins, and extracellular polysaccharides (EPS), communicate with host cells.

Lee learned that there is great variation between bacterial strains. “Although they all have surface polysaccharides, they occur as different types and in different compositions”, she says. “For example, the Lactobacillus plantarum strains WCFS1 and Lp90 produce very different extracellular polysaccharides (EPS). Lp90 produces about 20x more EPS than WCFS1.” The compositions of EPS are also different. “The EPS of WCFS1 is 65% glucose but that of Lp90 is heavier in glucosamine, galactose, galactosamine and rhamnose. When you remove EPS from WCFS1, the strain becomes more pro-inflammatory.“

A first
Globally, this is the first research that identifies the glycosyltransferases responsible for protein glycosylation in probiotics, including Acm2 – an enzyme, which digests the cell wall of Lactobacillus plantarum. “Until now these experiments have been limited to pathogenic bacteria and it is a real breakthrough to investigate these processes in Lactobacillus.” Therefore, Lee’s research also provides a ‘guideline’ for future studies into these compounds.

Explaining things
Lee, currently available for a post-doc position in industry, enjoyed her time as a PhD fellow at TiFN. “It was exciting to be part of such ground-breaking research”, she says. She also found it interesting to work with other disciplines, though, sometimes, communication was a challenge. “Coming from different fields of expertise, we used different professional terms and looked at issues from different perspectives”, she says. “Therefore we had to put extra effort into explaining things to each other, and always needed to check if the other had the right understanding.”

Image red arrow on the stomach

High-level heat resistance of Bacillus spores explained

28 April 2016 – Bacterial spores can survive heating processes commonly used in the food industry, and lead to food safety or spoilage issues. So far, it was not known why some Bacillus spores can survive very high heat treatments, while others of the same species succumb quickly. Identification at the species level was therefore a poor predictor of spore heat resistance.

In a recent publication in the ISME Journal (The ISME Journal advance online publication 22 April 2016; doi: 10.1038/ismej.2016.59), NIZO food research experts and Groningen University researchers working within the frame work of TiFN, shed more light on this phenomenon. They identified a unique genetic element in Bacillus subtilis that confers profoundly increased spore heat resistance.

At the heart of this finding lay genome sequencing and comparative genomics efforts, using two groups of Bacillus subtilis strains. One group produced spores that were inactivated after a few minutes at 100°C, while the other showed no inactivation at all after boiling for an hour. Similar differences were also observed in other Bacillus species, and this could be linked to the presence of the same element.

This important discovery offers new opportunities for detecting high-level heat resistant spores in the food chain and thereby allows for improved control of such spores. Heat resistant spores can lead to rejection of production batches of UHT or sterilized food products, leading to major economic losses in the food industry. These findings allow for screening of ingredients for the presence of spores that may survive the processing conditions applied. Moreover, it is now possible to screen for this property in Bacillus spores used as probiotics or in crop protection, and prevent introduction in the food chain via such routes.


Predicting food preferences

29 March 2016 – TiFN’s PhD fellow Jelle Dalenberg’s research. was all about unravelling food choice behavior through brain imaging. Different individuals like different foods, yet researchers tend to study the ‘average’ individual. According to Dalenberg “Such a person does not exist. Moreover, food preferences might be strongly related to emotions evoked by the context and process of a food’s consumption, making it very difficult to predict whether a food product will be a market success.”

Improved clustering method
Working at the Neuroimaging Center Groningen, Dalenberg implemented an improved clustering method, able to account for inter-individual differences. Volunteers tasted food products for six consecutive days, and then were merged into subgroups based on taste preferences. “This allowed us to increase our understanding of why people prefer certain foods”, he says.

One of the products tested was an orange-cinnamon flavour dairy drink. The ‘average individual’ had a neutral preference. However, the clustering approach identified that people either really liked the product or disliked it”, Dalenberg illustrates. “This implies that with targeted marketing this product could be successful.”

The doctoral student has also shown that the emotions evoked during food consumption have influence on what foods a person will choose. He asked people to taste different drinks while brain function was scanned via fMRI. After tasting each drink, participants indicated their degree of liking. “We showed that taste and taste preference are mainly processed in those brain areas which also process emotions”, says Dalenberg.

Dalenberg, who will continue with Post-Doc work on emotions and taste preferences, had an inspiring time at TiFN. “My expertise is in artificial intelligence and data-analysis, so nutrition and sensory-liking were completely new or me”, he says. Working with industry partners challenged him to explain research approaches in simpler ways, and to think in terms of industrial application. “Really eye-opening, for a scientist involved in fundamental neuroscience.”


Leads for the development of satiety-inducing foods

29 March 2016 – Fat, carbohydrates and proteins – in the distal small intestine – activate satiety signals which reduce food intake. This is the key insight from the PhD research.

Today, professionals researching overweight and obesity are still searching for the Holy Grail. Current weight-management strategies have proven difficulties. “The activation of satiety signals, via targets in the small intestine, could be a promising alternative strategy”, says Ripken. “Earlier research shows that fats in the ileum – the distal part of the small intestine – activate satiety-inducing processes.”

Fats, proteins and carbohydrates
Ripken’s project – part of TiFN’s Nutrient sensing project – was the first to investigate the effects of multiple macronutrients. She administered safflower oil (lipid mixture), casein (protein), sucrose (carbohydrate) and Reb A (Rebaudioside A: a steviol glycoside 200 times sweeter than sugar) to a porcine ex vivo intestinal segment model. “Pig intestines are similar to human intestines”, she explains. Ripken measured release of satiety hormones GLP-1 and PYY, and the role of the neurotransmitter serotonin. She also conducted – in collaboration with her colleagues from Maastricht University – two placebo-controlled studies with human volunteers, to learn more about these macronutrients’ effects on ad-lib food intake and satiety signals.


TiFN starts large research program together with TKI Agri & Food and NWO

25 January 2016 – This year, with support from the TKI Agri & Food and the NWO, TiFN will start a major research program in the field of food and nutrition. The program will be a mainstay of TIFN’s relaunch. In February, the current TiFN partners and other members of the (international) business community will be invited to consider the structure of the program. For the research subjects receiving the greatest support a Call for projects will be issued in April.

TiFN has played a key role in recent years in building and maintaining a strong knowledge sector in the food industry: within TiFN, industry and research institutes work closely together in ground-breaking research. Following the loss of the FES as a major source of funding, TiFN will continue to play this role. Among others in the new research program this year, with support from TKI Agri & Food and NWO will start.

Program budget €11 million
The new program will receive €5.5 million in public funding. Participating companies will contribute a further €5.5 million, increasing research capacity by a total of €11 million. The industry will benefit from strong leadership during the implementation of the program, with the innovation agenda of the Top Sector Agri & Food as the starting point. Programme directions could include, among other things, the development of new strategies to individualize dietary advice, new ways to assess the effectiveness of dietary interventions, and how to improve the sustainability of production processes and product quality. As with the TiFN NWO call (2015), businesses can commit to just those projects which closely parallel their own R & D strategies.

Call for participation
In order to identify which themes have the most support, TiFN is organising meetings with industry representatives, to take place on February 16 (Wageningen) and March 8 (Amersfoort). During the meetings, the concept and design of the research will be explained, together with the motivation for the Call; initial draft program ideas will also be presented and the business community will have the opportunity to present their own ideas. An interactive session will be used to determine which topics have the most appeal. Interested parties can register for the event via

Step 2: Call for projects
In April, partly based on the input from this meeting, there will be a Call for Projects. It is intended, in early 2017, to begin the research program, with the first approved projects.


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