17 July 2017

New professor in how food microbes affect our health


Microbiologist Dennis Sandris Nielsen from the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen has been appointed professor with special responsibilities in microbial biodiversity and functionality in food and health from 1 August 2017. He will research the interaction between microorganisms in our food and our intestinal system – and how this interaction affects our health and well-being.

Picture of professor Dennis Sandris Nielsen

“We should not only look at microorganisms as something we produce food with. They also interact with us when we eat the food. And in general, we need to see food as something that feeds our intestinal flora and is important for our well-being and health,” says Dennis Sandris Nielsen.

As a food microbiologist, Dennis Sandris Nielsen has a great deal of knowledge of how microbiology can be used to process food, for example, by means of fermentation. He also researches how the intestinal flora affects our health and plays a role in relation to certain diseases – for example, diabetes, age-related loss of muscle mass, allergies and asthma. As a professor with special responsibilities in microbial biodiversity and functionality in food and health, he will also work with what these two areas mean for our health overall.

“It has long been known that nutrition and intestinal flora are linked, just as intestinal flora and health are connected. But we have not thought as much about how many of our foods have undergone positive processing using microorganisms to become what they are – for example, cheese, sauerkraut, wine – and the way in which the food is processed greatly affects our health and well-being. The microbiology in the food is transported into the body when we eat and here it has an effect,” says Dennis Sandris Nielsen, continuing:

“When eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, you are also eating a lot of microorganisms that have formed in the sauerkraut, which now contains a lot of lactic acid bacteria in comparison to raw cabbage. It has a longer shelf life, a different soft texture and the digestibility and bioavailability have also changed – while the cabbage still contains a lot of fibres that affect our intestinal flora in a positive way. It is therefore a complex package that affects us differently than the raw or cooked cabbage and it is this type of relationships and interactions that we want to research more,” says Dennis Sandris Nielsen.

If you were to look ahead – what will have happened in this area in five years?

“In 5-10 years, we would like to be in a place where we actively use the deep knowledge we have about microorganisms to make some good tasting and health foods that actively interact with the body to maintain a good balance in the intestinal flora. If we can succeed in better understanding the complexity of microbiology in both food and people and all the interaction between them – and if we understand how to make use of this knowledge when we produce our food, it will eventually have a positive impact on public health,” says Dennis Sandris Nielsen.