In the Food Safety Centre we study microbes and microbial processes in a range of environments. These include naturally-occurring ecosystems such as soils and Antarctic sea-ice and sediment, and built environments including aquaculture facilities, factories and food-processing facilities.
The goal of much of this work is to understand the interactions between microbes and their environment and other organisms living there. The growth and activity of bacteria is affected by the characteristics of their environment and in turn bacteria are able to change their environment (for example by forming biofilms) and affect the growth of other organisms (for example by producing anti-microbial chemicals).
Work in this area is carried out using a variety of methods including growing the microbes, analysing their DNA and RNA and by using methods that directly examine the DNA and RNA of microbes in the environment. Projects in this area in the past have included investigation of anti-biotic resistance on farms; hydrocarbon degradation in Antarctic soils and sediments; the persistence of particular strains of Listeria within factories; the diversity of sea-ice bacteria and the dynamics of bacterial communities in oyster farms.
An obscure, single-celled organism, which has some amazing survival adaptations that allows it to live in the coldest place on Earth, could play an important role in food safety and medicine. But the bacteria, Psychroflexus torquis, is at risk of disappearing forever if climate change melts the rare pockets of Antarctic ice where it lives.