New Iowa State Lab Available for Testing Food Compounds

July 14th, 2009

AMES, Iowa — A new lab at Iowa State University that enables quick identification of beneficial compounds in food is available to researchers working on preventing spoilage, improving food quality, controlling foodborne pathogens and enhancing the growth of probiotic bacteria.

The Discovery Lab allows researchers to test various plant, microbial or animal food materials to determine whether they have antimicrobial or prebiotic properties. Antimicrobial compounds can be used to destroy or inhibit the growth of microorganisms, such as those that cause foodborne illnesses. Prebiotic compounds aid in the survival and growth of probiotics in the human gut. Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when consumed in a food product such as yogurt, can be used to combat pathogenic microorganisms and the diseases they cause.

"The Discovery Lab is unique in that it uses cost-effective approaches to rapidly obtain growth measurements of microorganisms using a minimum of equipment and space," said Aubrey Mendonca, professor-in-charge of the Discovery Lab.

The lab is being operated within the university's Center for Crops Utilization Research for on- and off-campus clients.

The lab uses sophisticated instruments to detect and monitor the growth of aerobic or anaerobic microbes under a variety of conditions. The latter microbes live in the absence of oxygen, and include probiotics and ruminant bacteria.

"This is important from a food safety standpoint, because some anaerobic bacteria are responsible for outbreaks of food poisoning," said Bill Colonna, assistant scientist who serves as manager of the Discovery Lab. "It also allows for improved detection methods for organisms like Clostridium perfringens, an anaerobe that is a common cause of foodborne disease."

"The instruments are capable of incubating and evaluating up to 200 different microbial cultures and their growth parameters in a single experiment," said Mendonca. "Data can be generated in a few days compared to several months using conventional techniques." Organisms that can be evaluated include a wide variety of foodborne pathogens and bacteria as well as selected yeasts and molds.

He said food companies could benefit from this lab, especially in instances where suitable natural antimicrobials are needed to meet growing consumer expectations.

More information about the Discovery Lab is available at:


Aubrey Mendonca, Food Science and Human Nutrition, (515) 294-2950,

William Colonna, Center for Crops Utilization Research, (515) 294-0643,

Lawrence Johnson, Center for Crops Utilization Research, (515) 294-4365,

Ed Adcock, Communications Service, (515) 294-2314,