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Stanley Brul, Erik Manders and Chris de Koster (Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences) have been awarded an NWO-ALW Open Competition grant. Their work focusses on the molecular physiology of the minimal survival capsule of life, the bacterial endospore.

Bacillus subtilis spore
Bacillus subtilis spore. Image: UvA

Bacterial spores are a major problem in the food industry as well as in hospitals. Their high resistance allows them to escape the treatments, such as heating, designed to inactivate bacteria, leading to food-spoilage and intoxication. To reduce spore-related problems, substantial investments are made in food quality control and in special patient care in hospitals. However, consumers nowadays prefer less-processed food, thereby allowing easy survival of spores. In addition, if food is treated with extreme measures to kill the spores, the nutritious properties of food items are lost.

Heat resistance

With the NWO grant of €242,000 and an extra €20,000 in-kind support from Unilever, NIZO Food Research, TNO, ADRIA and IFR, the research teams will appoint a post-doctoral fellow for a period of 3 years. Using the model organisms Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus cereus and Clostridium difficile, they will work to gain a better insight into the mechanisms of heat resistance.

The researchers will also perform a detailed statistical analysis of the mechanisms of heterogeneity in spore germination and outgrowth. With their research, they hope to generate robust predictive models that will improve processing of food products so that microbial food safety and food quality can be in an optimal equilibrium.

Chinese Science Council scholarships

In addition, the teams will receive financial support for two PhD positions from the Chinese Science Council. This grant will be used to reinforce the studies on initial events in bacterial spore germination in molecular detail with Structured Illumination Microscopy (SIM) and also on proteomics-driven studies on spore structure and stress resistance.


With funding from the NWO Open Competition researchers in earth and life sciences can develop their own research lines. See the NWO website for more information.