BACKGROUND: Over the past decade, the importance of the intestinal microbiota in maintaining health and, in some circumstances, contributing to disease has been established. The exact composition of the intestinal microbiota has only recently been determined by metagenomic sequencing studies (such as the MetaHIT project), and work is still ongoing to establish exactly which species of bacteria are associated with gut health and which species are associated with particular diseases. One of the main outcomes of such research is to be able to manipulate the intestinal microbiota (via the diet) in order to maintain health or treat disease. The nature of this research requires that scientists from many disciplines (e.g. food technology, nutrition, microbiology, gastroenterology) work together to determine the key questions in this field, perform the required studies, then translate their findings into practical health benefits.

THE INTESTINAL MICROBIOTA: As yet, it is unclear exactly which set of bacteria constitute a “health intestinal microbiota”. However, there is compelling evidence that dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota is associated with a range of conditions from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBD) to diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. The composition of the intestinal microbiota is established in early childhood and is influenced by the diet. The composition of the microbiota remains stable through life but can can change as dietary habits change. It has become apparent that a wide spectrum of intestinal bacterial species are required for the effective development of the host immune system and that when the immune system does not develop properly, an individual may be predisposed to certain inflammatory diseases. This may explain how changes in hygiene and diet over the past decades, which have led to reduced bacterial exposure, may be linked to the rise in inflammatory conditions in Western societies.

PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS: The growing appreciation of the important role of commensal microbes in human and animal health has led to attempts to manipulate or enhance the microbiota through the use of probiotics and/or prebiotics. Probiotics are microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. Prebiotics are nondigestible substances that provide a beneficial effect by selectively stimulating the favourable growth or activity of a limited number of indigenous bacteria. In 2010, almost half the total publications on pro- or prebiotics were from the European Union, indicating that the European Union has a significant potential for leading gut health research in the world.

KEY QUESTIONS: There are a number of key questions relating to gut bacteria that need to be addressed before the intestinal microbiota can be manipulated in a way that is beneficial to host health. Some of these questions, such as “which patterns of gut bacteria are associated with which diseases?” are being addressed by metagenomic studies. These studies are rapidly providing large amounts of information which can be used as the basis for more mechanistic studies, looking at how particular species of bacteria (or a lack of such species) may contribute to the development of a particular disease. As the results of such studies become available, researchers will have a better understanding of how to modulate the intestinal microbiota (via changes in diet, and/or pre-/probiotics) to improve human health. Identifying how to effectively manipulate the gut microbiota will require collaborations between food technologists, nutritionists, microbiologists and gastroenterologists in order to set up clinical trials test such interventions.

THE ENGIHR NETWORK: More research and collaboration across Europe will be necessary in the future to translate research findings into practical health benefits for consumers and patients. A multidisciplinary approach across Europe bringing together all this knowledge and know-how is essential. The Network has a multidisciplinary nature, encompassing food manufacturers, food scientists, nutritionists, microbiologists, and clinicians. ENGIHR will create a vehicle for scientists and industrialists to exchange information, knowledge and experience that can lead to future projects and collaborations at European level in different aspects of gastrointestinal health.

ACTIVITIES: The activities of the Network include:

  • Scientific workshops: ENGIHR will organise several workshops which will gather experts from various field to discuss new developments and current challenges and to identify areas of research which require special attention. Travel grants will be available for these meetings.
  • Short and exchange visit grants: Funds will be available for short and exchange visit grants which will promote collaboration between research groups and facilitate knowledge transfer.
  • Networking Website: This website will provide up to date information on ENGIHR activities as well as providing contact details and research interests of collaborators so that collaborations can more easily be established. This web-space will be an important tool for networking activities.

HISTORY: The proposal for the ENGIHR Networking Programme was first submitted to the European Science Foundation in October 2008. The Programme was approved for funding in January 2010 and the Network was launched in May 2010 at a meeting in Strasbourg.

ENGIHR launch meeting

FUNDING: ESF Research Networking Programmes are principally funded by the Foundation’s Member Organisations on an à la carte basis.  EUMYONET is supported by:

  • Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung in Österreich (FWF) Austrian Science Fund, Austria.
  • Eesti Teadusfond (ETF) Estonian Science Foundation, Estonia.
  • Suomen Akatemia/Finlands Akademi Academy of Finland, Finland.
  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) German Research Foundation, Germany.
  • Lietuvos Valstybinis Mokslo Ir Studij_ Fondas Lithuanian State Science and Studies Foundation, Lithuania.
  • Norges Forskningsråd Research Council of Norway, Norway.
  • Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologica (FCT) Foundation for Science and Technology, Portugal.
  • Slovenská Akadémia Vied (SAV) Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia.
  • Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) Council for Scientific Research, Spain.
  • Forskningsrådet för miljö, areella näringar och samhällsbyggande (FORMAS) Swedish Council for Environment,  Agricultural Sciences & Spatial Planning, Sweden.
  • Schweizerischer Nationalfonds (SNF) Swiss National Science Foundation, Switzerland.
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) United Kingdom.

ENGIHR Steering Committee:

Dr. Severino Pandiella (Chair)
School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science (C74/The Mill)
The University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester M13 9PL
United Kingdom
Tel +44 161 306 44 29
Fax  +44 161 306 43 99
s.pandiella@manchester.ac.uk
 
Dr. José Maria Lagarón
Novel Materials and Nanotechnology Group
Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA)
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)
Av. Agustin Escardino 7
46980 Paterna, Valencia
Spain
Tel  +34 627 337 247
Fax +34 963 392 025
lagaron@iata.csic.es
 
Dr. Andrea Lauková
Institute of Animal Physiology
Slovak Academy of Sciences
Soltsovej 4-6, 04001
Kosice
Slovakia
Tel +421 255 633 0283
Fax +421 255 728 7842
laukova@saske.sk
 
Professor Andrew MacPherson
Universitätsklinik für Viszerale Chirurgie und Medizin
Leiter Gastroenterologie
Inselspital Bern
3010 Bern
Switzerland
Tel +41 31 632 36 60
Fax +41 31 632 97 65
andrew.macpherson@insel.ch
 
Dr. Reet Mändar
Department of Microbiology
Faculty of Medicine
University of Tartu
Ravila 19
50411 Tartu
Estonia
Tel.  +372 73 74 174
Fax  +372 73 74 172
Reet.Mandar@ut.ee
 
Professor Ingolf F. Nes
Department of Chemistry, Biotechnology and Food Science
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
PO Box 50003
1432 Ås, Oslo
Norway
Tel +47 649 458 78
Tel +47 926 452 79
ingolf.nes@umb.no
 
Professor Margareta Nyman
Lund University
Applied Nutrition and Food Chemistry, Centre of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry
Getingevagen 60
P.O. Box 124
221 00 Lund
Sweden
Tel +46 46 222 4567
Fax +46 46 222 4532
Margareta.Nyman@appliednutrition.lth.se
 
Dr. Maria Saarela
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
PO Box 1000 (Tietotie 2)
02044 VTT
Espoo
Finland
Tel +358 405 760 913
Fax +358 207 227 071
maria.saarela@vtt.fi
 
Professor José António Couto Teixeira
Department. of Biological Engineering
Institute for Biotechnology and Bioengineering
University of Minho
Campus de Gualtar
4710-057 Braga
Portugal
Tel +351 253 604 406
Fax +351 253 678 986
jateixeira@deb.uminho.pt
 
Dr. Aldona Miezeliene
Head of the Sensory Laboratory
Food institute of Kaunas Technological University
Taikos av. 92
LT 51180
Kaunas
Lithuania
Tel +37 037 312587
aldonam@lmai.lt
 
Dr. Herbert Tilg
Klinische Abteilung für Gastroenterologie und Hepatologie
Medizinische Universität Innsbruck
Anichstrasse 35
6020 Innsbruck
Austria
Tel +43 5223 502 2116
Fax+43 512 504 67 23374
Herbert.tilg@i-med.ac.at
 
Professor Bernhard Watzl
Department of Physiology and Biochemistry of Nutrition
Max Rubner-Institute
Federal Research Institute of Nutrition and Food
Haid-und-Neu-Str. 9
76131 Karlsruhe
Germany
Tel +49   721 / 662 54 10
Fax +49   721 / 662 54 04
bernhard.watzl@mri.bund.de