Microbiological hazards

Food-borne pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, and bacterial toxins are transmitted to humans through food and can cause life-threatening diseases. The development of novel control strategies requires understanding of the threats posed by microbes. Food safety and consumer health are ensured by taking into consideration the whole food chain, from primary production to food products.

Food serves as a vector for the transmission of foodborne microbial pathogens or their toxins to humans leading to potentially life-threatening foodborne diseases. Understanding these microbial hazards and their role in human diseases is therefore prerequisite for the development of new and innovative control strategies throughout the entire food chain - from primary production to ready food products - in order to ensure food safety and consumer health.

By addressing fundamental as well as applied research questions, we aim at deciphering microbial properties and ecology of foodborne zoonotic pathogens using conventional microbiology techniques as well as state-of-the-art molecular biological tools, including whole genome sequencing and molecular typing, fluorescence microscopy, microfluidics, fluorescence-assisted cell sorting, cell culture, qPCR, RNAseq and CRISPR-Cas9 genetic engineering.

Our research work focuses on the molecular biology, virulence mechanisms, ecology, molecular epidemiology, prevention and diagnostics of a number of clinically relevant foodborne zoonotic pathogens such as viruses and spore-forming and/or cold-tolerant bacteria.

Among others, we explore the environmental, cellular, and genetic regulation of Clostridium botulinum’s main virulence mechanisms neurotoxin production and spore formation. Further, ecology and molecular mechanisms supporting growth and toxin formation in the food environment, questions regarding epidemiology and diagnostics of human and animal botulism, and food and feed safety are addressed. Additionally, we study the occurrence, ecology and contamination routes of Listeria monocytogenes and Bacillus cereus particularly in the dairy production chain.

Cold-tolerant Yersinia pseudotuberculosis poses a notorious hazard especially in modern chilled-food production relying on cold chain and -storage. We study genetic mechanisms underlying its cold-stress-tolerance and stress cross-protection as well as its reservoirs and transmission routes in order to develop better control measures against this foodborne pathogen.

Another research aspect lies on the viral foodborne pathogens noro- and hepatitis A virus and zoonotic hepatitis E virus. Besides of the epidemiology of the viruses throughout the entire food chain, our research interests include prevention of foodborne virus transmission by food processing and the development of efficient hygiene solutions and diagnostic tools to address viral food poisoning. 

Other foodborne pathogens studied in the unit include Campylobacter spp., Salmonella spp., Yersinia enterocolitica, Clostridium perfringens and Escherichia coli.

Research groups