IFR launches new Gut Health and Food Safety website

6th July 2012

The Institute of Food Research has launched a new website to communicate findings from a large programme of research on gut health and food safety.

In May the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Council (BBSRC) announced that it was investing £29 million in research at the Institute of Food Research as the first phase of five-year strategic investment programmes. One of these programmes, Gut Health and Food Safety, is focussed on how a healthy gut functions and how it protects itself against invading microorganisms.

The programme involves around 80 scientists, including some from the University of East Anglia and at Imperial College London.

The new website supporting this programme will bring together research on how the gut functions, how pathogens adapt and survive in the food chain and how they evade host defences to cause disease, integrating data from many disparate sources to help understand this complex subject.

“We have developed this website to explain the aims of our research programme with input from the researchers and in close collaboration with Andy Walker of the IFR Communications team,” said Emily Smith, Programme Manager of the Gut Heath and Food Safety Programme.

“We will be adding new features in due course, and the site will evolve with updates on the findings of our research and input from readers of the site.  We are keen to engage and communicate with the public as well as the scientific community, and we hope our site becomes one way of achieving this.”

The first ‘Image of the Month’ shows pathogenic E. coli attached to human epithelial cells. Picture by Steven Lewis (Research group: Stephanie Schüller)

As well as listing the publications from the programme, the website’s news page will carry accessible summaries of key findings as well as blogs and videos by the researchers. ‘Image of the month’ will give a changing picture of the world inside our gut that the research programme is trying to understand.

The Gut Health and Food Safety research programme is organised into three complementary themes.

One theme is concerned with how the body establishes and maintains a healthy barrier between our bodies and the food we eat. The lining of our gut must learn to tolerate the multitude of potential antigens in our food. In addition we host a huge and complex community of beneficial microbes whilst battling invasion by pathogenic bacteria.

Another theme looks at these pathogenic bacteria and aims to find out in more detail what strategies they adopt to survive and flourish in our bodies, and elsewhere in the food chain. The focus is on the three pathogenic bacteria of most concern to the UK, Salmonella enterica, Campylobacter jejuni and Clostridium botulinum.

The other theme battles with the complexities that surround gut health and food safety; how can the overwhelming amount of data and information about different people, bacteria, cells and molecules be brought together to help us see a complete picture of safe, healthy eating? Dealing with the data deluge in food and health involves advanced mathematical models, networks and simulations but ultimately these reveal organizations and patterns that reflect structure and order beyond the underlying variability and chaos. Putting lots of information together, and coping with complexity, to match modern research in food and biology with health outcomes, and consumer choice, is central to this.

Combase, a BBSRC-funded National Capability, is also closely associated with the programme. Combase is a web-based system that brings together data and models of microbial activity in foods, to assess risks and improve food safety and quality throughout the food chain.