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Research on microbial product formation involves a range of bacteria and products which display well the biotechnological possibilities of bacteria. For example, some Clostridium strains ferment carbohydrates to produce useful chemicals such as acetone but yields must be improved to make the technology economic. We are analysing sugar transport into these bacteria, both at the physiological and genetic level, with a view to increasing productivity. We also study bacteria which are toxic to the larvae of insects such as mosquitoes. These bacteria can be used in place of chemical insecticides to control these important vectors of several tropical diseases. In a collaborative project with scientists in Brazil, we developed genetically engineered strains that are highly toxic to Anopheles, the mosquito which transmits malaria.
The ability of one cell to become two is a fundamental property of living organisms and the ability to regulate microbial growth lies at the heart of many problems of practical importance. The molecular biology of bacterial growth, in particular the genetics of cell division, is being studied in Escherichia coli, in both normal growth conditions and in stressed situations such as those encountered during food processing.
We are also interested in bacterial growth in various food products, in particular milk spoilage by endospore-forming bacteria that escape pasteurisation and UHT treatments. This has led to the description of new bacteria with highly thermoresistant spores and we have developed DNA-based probes for the detection and identification of these organisms.
Research on lactic bacteria in fermented beverages has led to the description of new species and an appreciation of the contribution of these bacteria to the flavour of distilled beverages, notably whisky.
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