Microbes and Function
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
PLEASE NOTE: The language of the day is Dutch.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, email@example.com.
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.
- Raoul Bino – The new TiFN research vision
- Wouter-Jan Schouten – Opportunities in the transition of our food system
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
22 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!
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.
Van 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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
28 June 2016 – In 2015 TiFN-researchers delivered 159 peer-reviewed publications. This is an all-time high. Next to this, 13 pHD candidates defended their thesis in 2015.
All publications and lectures of 2015 can be found in our Scientific Publications and Presentations List 2015.
8 June 2016 – On 1 June around 80 representatives of TiFN partners attended the Annual Conference in Hotel de Wageningsche Berg in Wageningen. Below you find a photo impression made by photographer Guy Ackermans.
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.
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.”
|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.
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.
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, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodhyd.2015.07.016 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. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.3168/jds.2014-8552 Abstract can be found here
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.