Long gone are the days when microbiologists worked in isolation and produced single-author original research papers, perhaps with the help of a technical assistant or research assistant. Not only are demands on researchers seemingly greater than they were 100+ years ago, but research today is vastly different from what it was. Multidisciplinary teams and Interdisciplinary research is the norm, and were not just talking about a team of microbiologists with different interests and different specialties, no I’m talking of teams spanning diverse disciplines in science, and even non-science, sometimes geographically separated by thousands of kilometres and multiple timezones. Take for example, a project team I was part of at RMIT University several years ago – despite being a food microbiologist, I held a position in the School of Business IT and Logistics, where I worked (in the one project!) with e-commerce and innovative retailing experts, information systems professionals and environmental scientists trained in life cycle analysis (Figure 1).
How are we leveraging the diverse expertise across different disciplines’ cross industry and academic 9and private research organisations) and breaking geographical barriers along with cross-cultural differences to advance science, and indeed society. Really, that is all part of modern day science, and why diverse networking is an essential element of modern research and development pursuits.
Another example I want to offer is my postdoctoral work, carried out in the School of Applied Sciences at RMIT University. While we were all food scientists, I was a food microbiologist working in the Food Chemistry research group on projects in the area of physical chemistry and materials science, with experts in the area of rheology and calorimetric properties of food ingredients. What might be the connection you may say, between food microbiology and materials science? In this day and age, almost any discipline has an overlap and influence with another discipline, when talking of applied science and applied research as opposed to basic and fundamental science – which still may diversely multidisciplinary.
Let me explain one example of a food scientist working at the interface of microbiology, physical chemistry and materials science. One’s microbiome is an essential microbial ecosystem unique to the individual that functions in maintaining balance, not only in relation to guy or digestive health, but in other body systems too, even mental health as we are not coming to understand. As a result of a range of factors, such as antibiotic-based abuse of our microbiome, our body’s microbial ecosystem may get out of balance, resulting in health disruptions, such as the rise and dominance of a pathogenic microorganism, no longer kept in check by ‘friendly’ bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. The area of probiotics, gut health and fermented foods is ancient, but enjoying a resurgence in popularity as people seek increasing natural ways to restore and maintain their health. A traditional approach to restoring the gut bacterial balance is through probiotics consumed in food products, traditionally dairy products. However, many issues have been raised with survival and the maintenance of viability of probiotic microorganisms in the sometimes harsh conditions found in food products (low pH), manufacturing (high temperature) and gastrointestinal passage (low pH), where sometimes, few viable cells reach the location of the gastrointestinal tract where they need to exert their effects. While in various situations, basic studies on the microbiology of stress responses have elucidated elements of how tolerance (or lack of) to such conditions occurs, there is still a need for improved viability and survival of the diverse probiotics available, under the widely variable conditions found in products, manufacturing along with storage/distribution. One approach that has been used in the food industry for delivery of sensitive compounds in found is encapsulation of various types, traditionally microencapsulation, but now encapsulation (Figure 2) on a nano scale – nano encapsulation. There are many approaches with regard to encapsulation material and how the capsules are prepared that promote improved probiotic survival under different conditions. Culture preparation is another factor that may be important in the ultimate survival of those encapsulated cells. For example, in some circumstances, freeze dried cultures can be added to microcapsules, and perform better, with regard to tolerance to extreme environmental conditions, such as those encountered in food, during processing and in gastrointestinal passage. To ensure that the highest concentration of viable cells possible is applied to the capsule, a cryoprotectant is typically selected that will allow the highest viability following freeze drying. Certainly, in some cases, for Sachharomyces boulardii, this information is not known and consequently, we are likely to be missing out on maximising the effect of microencapsulation. Thus, basic studies on cryoprotectants to determine, for example, important physical properties like the glass transition temperature (Figure 3) may be critical in advancement of this area of food science and highlights the cross disciplinary approach that can address a range of real-world problems to advance science. Therefore, diverse networking and collaboration is essential – why not contact someone new today and expand your professional network?