1- Isolation, identification and exploitation of yeasts for artisanal beer production (collaboration with Cerveja D’Ourique; Margarida Palma, Isabel Sá-Correia)
The number of Portuguese artisanal beer companies registered a significant increase over the last decade. Small artisanal breweries compete with mass-market breweries focusing on the quality and diversity of their beers, instead of low prices. The main goal of the collaboration with the Portuguese artisanal beer producer Cerveja D’Ourique (http://www.dourique.com/) is to produce a unique artisanal beer using a blend of yeast strains isolated in Portugal. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the yeast species of choice in traditional ale beer production and the availability of new starter strains could be an important differentiating aspect among artisanal beer producers. The collaborative effort aims the isolation, identification, selection and exploitation of strains of S. cerevisiae and of other yeast species, among them Brettanomyces bruxellensis used in the production of traditional Belgian ale to add a distinguishing flavor to beer.
2- Evaluation of the antibacterial potential of Burkholderia cepacia complex bacteria secretome and of an antimicrobial produced by BioMimetx SA (collaboration with Biomimetx, Lda; Isabel Sá-Correia, Carla Coutinho Carina Galhofa)
BioMimetx (https://www.linkedin.com/company/biomimetx ) is a global biotech start-up focused on the development of “green” antifouling solutions to prevent marine biofouling. Our collaboration with BioMimetx envisages: i) the assessment of the antibacterial activity of and antifouling mixture developed by this start-up and ii) the development of new antibacterials, specially against Gram-negative bacteria, based on our collection of clinical and environmental isolates of Burholderia cepacia complex bacteria. These isolates are phenotypically characterized and their genome sequence available, thus allowing future biotechnological exploitation of the information gathered during current studies.
Engineering of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae for bioconversion of pectin-containing agro-industrial side-streams (collaboration with GlobalYeast in the framework of the EraNet Industrial Biotechnology PROJECT YEASTPEC; Isabel Sá-Correia, Luís Martins, Cláudia Godinho, Margarida Palma).
In this EraNet project, we want to address different scientific challenges for conversion of pectin-rich biomass (for example, sugar beet pulp) into products such as bioethanol and commodity chemicals by consolidated bioprocessing using S. cerevisiae. GlobalYeast (http://www.globalyeast.com/) is a Belgian-Brazilian company that develops superior industrial yeast strains for the production of first- and second-generation bioethanol and green chemicals from diverse types of renewable biomass. Our group contribution to the project intends the improvement of stress tolerance of industrial yeasts to the factors that specifically inhibit fermentation of sugar beet pulp hydrolysates in combination with challenging industrial process conditions such as low pH, high temperature, high ethanol concentration and oxygen limitation. The results obtained will guide the engineering of a process-robust strain. GlobalYeast will ensure that scientific results obtained throughout the project will be evaluated and brought to commercial application.
Collaborations with hospitals and health agencies
1- Molecular epidemiology of Burkholderia cepacia complex respiratory infections in cystic fibrosis patients (collaboration with Hospital de Sta Maria; Isabel Sá-Correia, Carla Coutinho)
The multiple bacterial species Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) causes serious respiratory infections in immunocompromised individuals or in patients with other pathologies, in particular cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Bcc species may lead to the development of a fatal septic condition called cepacia syndrome and are generally associated with greater morbidity and mortality in CF patients and this worse prognosis often results in exclusion from lung transplantation. Our research group maintains a 2-decade-long collaboration with medical doctors and clinical microbiologists from the major Portuguese Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Center and Clinical Pathology Service of Hospital de Sta Maria, in Lisbon. The first studies describing the epidemiology of bacteria of the Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) in CF infections in Portugal were published in 2000. Since then, a large collection gathering more than 900 Bcc isolates recovered from 48 CF patients over the years was established; a large part of these clinical isolates was molecularly identified as Bcc species and genotyped. Clones from the poorly represented B. cepacia and B. contaminans species among the CF populations characterised worldwide were epidemiologically related with clones detected, in 2003 and 2006 in non-sterile saline solutions for nasal application. Other Bcc species isolated at HSM over the years are B. cenocepacia, recognized as the dominant species with high potential for inter-patient transmission, B. multivorans that has recently replaced B. cenocepacia in several countries, B. dolosa and B. stabilis.
We are continuing our longstanding surveillance of Bcc bacteria at HSM and acting as an informal reference laboratory for Bcc bacteria in Portugal whenever requested, for example, to support medical decisions in particular regarding eligibility of the CF patient for lung transplantation.
2- Detection of Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) bacteria in health products (with INFARMED- National Authority of Medicines and Health Products; Isabel Sá-Correia and Carla Coutinho)
The clinical relevance of Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) and the recognition of being one of the more prevalent pharmaceutical industry contaminants, have led the Authorities, namely the US FDA , to propose the inclusion of these bacteria as a clear and definite “Objectionable Microorganism”. It is therefore important to set up and implement widely accepted and validated test methods that can detect Bcc from contaminating pharmaceutical manufacturing environments, raw materials and finished products. The development and implementation of these methods is the objective of current collaboration with the INFARMED Microbiology Lab that follows a former collaboration during the process of recall of non-sterilized saline solutions for nasal application contaminated with B. cepacia and B. multivorans.