Quantitative Ecology of Pathogens

The field of Quantitative Ecology of Pathogens

Understanding how foodborne pathogens successfully survive in food and in food environments and transit to the host is the key research theme of the research group Quantitative Ecology of Pathogens. Foodborne pathogens are ubiquitous and can persist and grow in a variety of ecological niches, including soil, raw-food materials, production environment, processed foods and ultimately the host. Their ability to survive stresses and remain robust and compete with other microorganisms in multiple ecological niches determines their ability to reach the host and cause disease. However, prediction and control of transmission  of pathogens along the food chain is complicated by the fact that there is variability between pathogenic strains and individual cells in the way they deal with stress, which influences their chance to persist. The research group Quantitative Ecology of Pathogens aims to create mechanistic foundations for predictions of microbial behaviour to better control pathogens and predict food safety risks.

Our focus area

Our research focusses on (1) exploration of adaptation mechanisms of pathogens in food and in food environments, but also in other relevant niches like soil, (2) to better understand and quantify heterogeneous behaviour from single-cell level to ecosystem level, and (3) to predict the bacterial behaviour based on physiological status, genomic background and taking into account their heterogeneous behaviour.

Our approach

We use a quantitative approach from genome to ecosystem level to link information of the different levels to find biomarkers for robustness and heterogeneous behaviour. We will use these predictive determinants to better understand and predict why individual cells behave differently, and how pathogens remain robust in an ecosystem. Understanding and prediction of the adaptive traits of a successful pathogen is vital to ultimately reveal how to interfere with bacterial dynamics in connecting environments and may yield tools to intelligently evaluate current and new interventions to reduce food safety risks.

For more information about ecology of pathogens or education/graduation projects email to heidy.denbesten@wur.nl or check the tab "education/thesis" on the web-page of the Laboratory of Food Microbiology.