The Good, the Bad and the Microbiome

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BaumlerThere are two sides to every story, including the story of microorganisms.

Many microbiology labs focus on the bad microorganisms that cause foodborne disease outbreaks, but Assistant Professor David Baumler in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition expanded his labs’ learning.

“I have built my career on interdisciplinary training, harnessing the different sciences to innovate and challenge the status quo,” said Baumler. “So looking at old concepts in new ways is exciting and challenging and opening our eyes to new solutions.”

Alongside the typical bad bacteria like Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli, the Baumler Lab also looks at
good bacteria to understand how it can be harnessed to help produce safe food.

“It’s not always about the bad microorganisms and how they can negatively affect people,” said Baumler. “We also need to realize the good microorganisms and how those can produce a more natural approach to improving food systems and production in a healthier way.”

Baumler’s research at the U started out with an emphasis on chili peppers and their antimicrobial properties to help make food safe naturally, but he has expanded his focus by leaps and bounds since then.

One of the biggest projects he is now looking at is how good bacteria can be used to affect one of Minnesota’s largest industries: turkey.

“When I moved to Minnesota, I learned that the state is the nation’s largest turkey producer,” said Baumler. “I heard that there were issues with the industry and keeping flocks healthy, and that they were looking for new solutions from microbiology to help resolve the issues.”

Seizing the opportunity, Baumler is now analyzing a difficult-to-grow bacterium of the turkey microbiome, and working to optimize culture conditions for future development of probiotics that will help farmers raise healthy turkeys in natural ways.

And with the recent outbreak of avian flu devastating farms across the state, his research comes at a critical time.

“It’s a great feeling knowing that your research can have such a positive impact right where you live,” said Baumler.

-Rachel Reisig