Nutrition is gaining importance due to the problems of unhealthy eating habits and lifestyle in the developed world and related lifestyle diseases as well as from the strategic economic point of view. The problems are directly related to agriculture and food industry as well as to wider society, nutrition policy, health practices and consumers showing increasing interest in functional food consumption. The intestines of humans and animals is richly populated with microorganisms (human: about 1014, 1000 - 2000 species), which are in constant interaction with food and hosts. Homeostasis in the metabolism of nutrients, intestinal immunity and energy ensures the health of the host, while imbalance in gut microbiota may lead to dysbiosis and the development of disease.
Our research program addresses the complex system of diet-microbiota-health-environment from different aspects and continues the past research of the program group:
- In the area of meeting the needs of the animals we study secondary plant metabolites, which represent an alternative to antibiotics and interesting components of food of animal origin with functional properties.
- With the help of new metabolic markers and transcriptomic analysis, we study the performance of anti-oxidative bioactive substances, as well as of possibilities to regulate microbial fermentation in intestines with bioactive substances. The animal studies serve also as model studies for humans.
- We continue with genetic, genomic and meta-genomic studies of intestinal bacteria from the genera Prevotella, Bacteroides and Ruminococcus with emphasis on genes for degradation of polysaccharides (PUL) and mechanisms for adaptation to specific environmental conditions.
- We are searching for links among the composition of the intestinal microbiota and various diseases, as well as for the possibilities to modulate the microbiota with probiotics and β-glucans.
- The object of research are also the immunomodulatory bioactive peptides from human colostrum, different toxic compounds in food/feed which originate from polluted environment, the utilization of various microorganisms from the gastrointestinal tract as probiotics (breast milk or intestinal mucosa as a source of probiotic bacteria) or as bio-cultures for the degradation of organic substrates (rumen bacteria), such as for example waste from the agro-food sector.
- In parallel, the development and/or application of new methods for genomic and transcriptomic analysis, for proteomic analysis of bioactive substances (LCMS/MS analysis) and for testing of toxic and genotoxic effects of nanoparticles takes place.
Importance for development
One of the main goals of the programme group is the support of the educational process at the graduate and post-graduate level, in accordance with the mission of our institution. Production and supply of safe, healthy and quality food is one of the priority research areas in Europe. The problem is addressed also in the proposed program, both through exploring safety of food and its effects on the host, as through the development of methods for testing the toxic and genotoxic effects of substances in food/feed, and for determining the quality of functional foods, feed additives or nutritional supplements. Contribution to sustainable development primarily represents planned research on bio-cultures for the decomposition of organic substrates - waste from the agri-food sector, which is directly related to the production of biogas, as well as with assuring the energy from renewable sources. Furthermore, the use of natural instead of synthetic feed additives which allows their use in organic farming where the use of certain synthetic feed additives is not permitted, also support the sustainable development.
Research will contribute to greater awareness, to better food quality, and will support the knowledge of the population about healthy eating habits and healthy lifestyle, and will consequently contribute to the improved health status of the population of the RS. There is of particular importance nutrition in the earliest period of life, which is covered in the program through exploring the effects of breast milk on the development of the microbiota of children. The results are also important in terms of food and nutrition policies and health practices.
Research and development on nutrition issues require knowledge of various natural sciences and technologies, which is provided with the diverse composition of the proposed program group. Efficient implementation of the research program will together with an educational aspect substantially contribute to sustainable socio-economic development. Collaboration with partners from the industrial sector will bring new knowledge and methods through the applicative projects and introduce technology of forage production, animal nutrition and management of production/processing of healthy and safe food, with a lesser burden on the environment. Research of bio-peptides from colostrum, of new generation probiotics from breast milk and intestinal mucosa, and of bioactive additives for food and feed raises the possibility of developing new products – bio-therapeutics (protection of the new-born from infection and of mother against breast infection, prevention or supportive treatment of intestinal disorders), probiotic cultures for functional foods, natural feed additives for improved performance and health of animals as well as nutritional and technological quality of food of animal origin, nutritional supplements and bio-cultures for degradation of organic substrates by producing biogas - and encourages the start-up of new biotechnology companies. New developments in the above mentioned research fields would contribute greatly to the competitiveness of Slovenian products and thus the competitiveness of agriculture and agri-food sector as a whole.