Food research being carried out by Teagasc could lead to new ways of treating stomach-related conditions
“People in sub-Saharan Africa will have a very different microbiota to people in Western Europe for example. This is due to their very different diets. Europeans eat a lot more processed and sugar rich foods while in Africa much more root vegetables and so on are eaten and different bacteria are needed to cope with the different foods.
“The microbiota is influenced by what we eat and things like antibiotics can also affect it. But it was overlooked for years.”
Its importance to our health is now recognised, however belatedly, and evidence for this can be found on the supermarket shelves.
“There are products out there now aimed at promoting ‘good’ bacteria and they do benefit in many cases. But the bacteria they introduce are a bit like tourists, they don’t stay very long.
“What we are looking at is how food ingredients can programme the gut and influence the bacteria in it. And therein lies the opportunity for the food industry in Ireland.”
One example of this opportunity is the potential to reduce antibiotic use in infants or elderly people in order to combat side effects such as diarrhoea which can result from disruptions to the microbiota inadvertently caused by the treatment.
This is frequently caused by a bacterium known as clostridium difficile , also known as C. Diff, which exists in the gut of many healthy people. It is kept in check by the other “good” bacteria in the gut but if antibiotics affect those bacteria the C. Diff can multiply and lead to infection.
“We are looking at bacteria that produce bacteriocins that inhibit the growth of C Difficile but don’t affect other bacteria,” says Ross.
“These will provide a very useful alternative to antibiotic treatments. We tend to look at the extremes of life in this research, newborns and the elderly, because this is where nutritional interventions can have the greatest effect.
“If we can use food ingredients to programme the microbiota and promote useful bacteria in this way we could help reduce the need for antibiotic treatments for the very young or very old.”
Increased our life expectancy
He is quick to point out that antibiotics should not be viewed negatively, however. “Antibiotics have their place,” he says. “The single breakthrough of the discovery of antibiotics has increased our life expectancy by an average of eight years and that should never be forgotten.”
This is just one example of the research work being carried out by Teagasc and the APC in the functional foods area.
“There is a huge opportunity in the gap between academic research and its industrial exploitation and that’s where we sit. We aim to support the Irish agri-food industry with our targeted scientific research.”
For further information on the work of Teagasc’s Food Research Programme go to teagasc.ie/research