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Microbiota of Andean Food: tradition for healthy products

Final Report Summary - µ-ANDES (Microbiota of Andean Food: tradition for healthy products)

Countries from the Andean region and from Mountain areas of Central America are home to a wide range of natural and wild resources, representing an important proportion of the Earth’s total biodiversity. The general objective of this EU founded project is the involvement of the different academic competences (food microbiologists, technologists and agronomists, molecular biologists) from European Union (EU) and Latin America (LA) research institutions to create a network aimed to strengthen research partnerships through staff exchanges. The main objectives of the project are to provide opportunities for faculty and staff to increase their knowledge about LA traditional food biodiversity (with particular attention at the microbial biodiversity and traditional food and beverage processing) and genetic inheritance, developing scientific communications and ideas among the different participants.
This international cooperation project involves American partners in association with European partners that performed a research activity by means of an exchange programme during four-years.

• Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Italy) Coordinator
• Universidad de Valencia (Spain)
• Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (Spain)
• Itaa-Suomen yliopisto (Finland)
• Centro de Referencia para Lactobacilos-Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas (Argentina)
• Universidad Nacional Autonoma De Mexico (Mexico)

In the four years of the project the activities of the consortium have been focused on three main aspects: (i) the research activities, (ii) the training of young European and Latin American scientist and (iii) dissemination of the results.

(i) The project the research activities have been focused on the study of the microbial biodiversity of Andean foods object of the work: traditional fermented potatoes based food (Tunta and Tocosh) and corn-based food (Chicha from North-western Argentine); fermented beverage Atole agrio “Xocoatolli” from Mexico; llama meat, amaranth and quinoa-based fermented products North-western Argentina.
The sampling procedure was in accordance with the different manufacturing processes of each traditional food:
- chica has a fermentation period of two weeks;
- Atole is fermented during 6 hours and finally boiled;
- two independently productions of llama meat fermented sausages were considered
- seeds and fermented flours from Quinoa and Amaranth were collected by different sources
- tocosh is the result of a traditional technique by placing different potato varieties on a straw bed in a hole practiced near a water spring. Potatoes fermentation is accomplished during a variable period of time (up to 8 months).
- the tunta or chuño is a freeze-dried potato produced by exposing a frost resistant variety of potatoes to the very low night temperatures of the Andean Altiplano, freezing them, and subsequently exposing them to the intense sunlight of the day.
Culture-dependent and independent methods, including bacterial enumeration and isolation and molecular techniques (PCR, DGGE, 16S rDNA sequencing), were applied to identified and characterized the main microbial population present in the samples of fermented foods collected at different times during the elaboration process. Studies on the microbial biodiversity of was achieved also by metagenomics studies using Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). Technological and functional properties of the isolated strains was investigated, such as vitamin production capacity (vitamin B12, folates) and enzymatic activity of industrial interest as well as food quality and safety related traits( antibiotic resistance, bacteriocin).
Results from the research activities develop during this project are been transferred in a novel multifunctional starter cultures that improved technologies for food safety and quality in the particular fermented food, having an impact on the consumer protection and on the trade opportunities by the compliance of the EU criteria and regulation for food safety.
The scientific highlights and research achievements are:
1- microAndes partners were concerned about the traditional fermented food from Latin America, this allowing the acquisition of new knowledge on microbial biodiversity in fermented food productions.
2- Participant individual expertise were shared during exchanges which were capitalized for
the implementation of methodologies and scientific approaches.
3-Novel results from unknown ecological niches were provided to the scientific community thereby enriching the current knowledge on microbiology.
The scientific and technological knowledge arising from traditional fermented products studied in microAndes project constitute the most important profit of this work. The increase knowledge on the fermentation microbiota (including possibly pathogens) involved in the production of the LA fermented products provide a clear figure of the complex microbial associations and contribute to increase the knowledge on natural food and beverage fermentations.
4- A microbial culture collection of at least 1000 characterized microbial strains, this collection, maintained in at least two different locations, allows to preserve the microbial biodiversity and provide the biological bank for the selection of new strains for safe and successful food fermentation.
5- The identification of conditions for improving the fermentation of traditional foods and a list of best practices food processing. In particular the project has lead to the definition of conditions to improve the microbiological safety and to reach the compliance with EU regulation on food

(ii) Training of young scientist from European and Latin America countries
The project involved 49 scientists, visiting exchange between Latin America and Europa. The period spent in the hosting laboratories allow the training of the young scientists on the most recent methodological approaches for the study of the microbiota of food products. Moreover, the project allowed the establishment of network among EU and LA, which is continuing to collaborate on the aspect of food microbiology, food safety and product innovation.

(iii) Dissemination of the results
microAndes has adopted a plan to extend the excellence and disseminate the knowledge within and outside the project with particular attention to food consumers in both EU and Latin America. The dissemination, which started in the first years, was mainly made during the last period of the project. It was based on three main strategies:
- scientific communication through publication of peer review papers, participation to conferences, with oral and poster presentations.
- meetings and workshops targeted to the food producers (famers, food cooperatives and food entrepreneurs) in Latin America.
- meetings with the national institutions (e.g. governments, research centres. food authorities ) of LA countries

In conclusion, this project has provided a model of mutual knowledge generation by creating a discussion space where food science experts, artisanal producers from Latin American countries, food authorities, indistries and governments, originated strategies to widen trade opportunities for high quality and safe food produced in the developing countries. The study of fermentation processes has served as functional model for other international cooperation actions on traditional food.