The project "Unravelling fundamental mechanisms of bacterial exopolysaccharide catabolism for use in food and health applications (FunEPS)" seeks to determine the catabolic pathways of microbes utilizing exopolysaccharides as a source of nutrients.



Bacteria produce a variety of compounds that are expressed on their surface or secreted to their surroundings. A large share of these compounds are different types of carbohydrates that play a number of different biological roles. Some of these carbohydrates are called “exopolysaccharides” (EPS) and is what make some bacteria slimy and slippery.  EPS play several important roles for both bacteria and humans. For example, bacterial pathogens use EPS to create biofilms to protect themselves from the immune system or antibiotics. Further, many food-related bacteria secrete carbohydrates that contribute with important properties such as texture and stabilizers in food. Finally, when bacteria are in complex communities like in the gastrointestinal environment, EPS can act as signaling entities between bacteria, between bacteria and the host, or serve as nutrient sources for other bacteria. Surprisingly, very little is known about how EPS are degraded by bacteria and their enzymes.

In this project we want to learn more about EPS, how these complex carbohydrates are degraded by bacteria and how we can use EPS in new food and health applications. By utilizing an on-site biorefinery, multi-gram amounts of pure EPS from several cornerstone bacteria will be produced and subsequently used as nutrient sources in bacterial cultivation screens. By analyzing the enzyme systems of the EPS-degrading bacteria, we will identify and obtain enzymes used for EPS-degradation. By treating the EPS we produce with EPS modifying enzymes and additional chemical methods, we will be able to make completely new compounds that can be used for many different purposes, for example to monitor EPS binding to or uptake in bacteria, alter the composition of the gut microbiota (from unhealthy to healthy), create new food based EPS for texture and taste and create novel antimicrobial compounds.

We are hiring a PhD student and a post doctoral researcher in 2022. See:

More about the project

The project is co-financed by NMBU and The Norwegian Research Council in a program called "Fellesløftet IV" , will last for 5 years and employ 2 PhD students and 3 postocs. The project has a PI and co-PI, Prof. Gustav Vaaje-Kolstad and Assoc. Prof. Bjørge Westereng, respectively. The research will be performed in collaboration with both national and international research groups:

  • Prof. Bernard Henrissat (DTU, Copenhagen, Denmark)
  • Prof. Carmen Galan (University of Bristol, United Kindom)
  • Prof. Nina van Sorge (UMC Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
  • Assoc. Prof.  Karianne Wiger Gammelsrud (Dept. of Microbiology, Oslo University Hospital, Norway)