University of Oulu

Detection of harmful microbes and their metabolites with novel methods in the agri-food production chain

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Author: Nieminen, Timo1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Technology, Department of Process and Environmental Engineering
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2009
Publish Date: 2009-01-12
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic dissertation to be presented, with the assent of the Faculty of Technology of the University of Oulu, for public defence in Kuusamonsali (Auditorium YB210), Linnanmaa, on January 22nd, 2009, at 12 noon
Reviewer: Doctor Ute Lechner
Professor Atte von Wright


This thesis aimed at developing methods for tracking the environmental origins of microbial contaminants of the food chain. We worked on three targets: i) environmental mycobacteria ii) toxinogenic Bacillus species iii) post-harvest fungi in strawberry jam. Our aim was to develop methods for early detection of the above contaminants, which have the potential to endanger consumer health.

We developed a novel method based on 16S rRNA hybridization for tracking the reservoirs of potentially pathogenic environmental mycobacteria in piggeries and soil. From 1010 to 1012 16S rRNA molecules of environmental mycobacteria were found per gram of peat, wood shavings and straw in piggeries with a high prevalence of infections. These beddings may thus be a source of mycobacteria for pigs. We found 1010–1011 of mycobacterial 16S rRNA molecules per gram of Finnish forest soil, indicating that the soil contained 107–109 mycobacteria per gram. These numbers exceed the previous cultivation-based estimates of mycobacterial content in Finnish soils.

To elucidate the role of mastitis in the input of toxinogenic Bacillus into the dairy production chain, milks were sampled from mastitic cows. Twenty-three Bacillus isolates were screened for toxins using the sperm cell motility inhibition assay. Four of the six toxinogenic isolates found were identified as Bacillus pumilus and two as Bacillus licheniformis. The isolates produced toxic substances that were heat-stable (100 °C) and soluble in methanol, thus being of non-protein nature. The extracts prepared from the toxin-producing isolates disrupted the plasma membrane of exposed sperm cells at concentrations 1–15 μg ml-1 (B. pumilus) 20–30 μg ml-1 (B. licheniformis). The toxic action of the mastitis-associated B. licheniformis strains was similar to that of the lipopeptide lichenysin A. The genes for lichenysin synthetase were found in these strains by PCR. This study revealed that heat-stable toxin-producing strains of B. pumilus and B. licheniformis occur in milk of mastitic milking cows. They may enter the dairy production chain when milk of clinically healthy cows recovered from mastitis is sent to dairies.

Many foodborne contaminant fungi are known to produce volatile organic compounds. We investigated the suitability of such metabolites as early indicators of fungal contamination of strawberry jam. We found that volatile organic compounds commonly produced by the contaminant fungi in strawberry jam were 2-pentanone, styrene, 3-methyl-1-butanol, 1,3-pentadiene and ethanol. The results indicate that these compounds could be used to detect fungal contamination of jam.

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. C, Technica
ISSN-E: 1796-2226
ISBN: 978-951-42-9003-9
ISBN Print: 978-951-42-9002-2
Issue: 314
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2009. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.