Microscopic life is omnipresent, and it also appears in places where it is not wanted. Bacteria and unicellular fungi can spoil food, infest plants and bring entire production facilities to a standstill. The pharmaceutical industry is also afraid of contaminations. The Karlsruhe-based nadicom Gesellschaft für angewandte Mikrobiologie mbH offers a broad range of services to companies and environmental authorities to help them deal with and control the omnipresence of microorganisms. Researchers led by Dr. Bernhard Nüsslein analyse environmental samples or initiate “criminological” investigations in an attempt to unravel the activities of microscopic saboteurs.
A pharmaceutical company that had frequently been faced with production standstills is a good example of the efficiency of nadicom’s work. This particular company’s problems were due to Bacillus cereus contaminations of the connections of a fermenter used to cultivate animal cells. But why did the bacteria reappear once the connections had been cleaned? How did they manage to contaminate the sensitive parts of the apparatus over and over again? In such cases the experts from Karlsruhe-based nadicom Gesellschaft für angewandte Mikrobiologie mbH become the profilers of choice, as they work to glean evidence using state-of-the-art molecular biology methods. Did one of the employees accidentally bring the bacteria into the company? Was one of the chemicals contaminated? “We examined numerous different bacteria samples isolated from different steps in the production process,” said Dr. Bernhard Nüsslein, nadicom’s founder and managing director. “We succeeded in differentiating different bacterial strains from each other and slowly but surely identified the source of contamination.” The fermenter was modified, which eventually caused the bacteria to disappear completely.
Nüsslein had already considered establishing a service company focusing on microbiological investigations when he did his doctoral thesis and worked as a post-doc at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, Germany. Back then, the biologist was studying microbes and expanding the range of molecular biology and microbiological methods. In addition, he was involved in numerous collaborations with companies, which provided him with insights into industrial processes. “I had always thought about setting up my own business," said Nüsslein who finally did so in 2002 when political conditions facilitating the establishment of companies were created at the Max Planck Institutes. At first, nadicom offered its microbiological services mainly for environmental investigations, for example for the analysis of soil samples and the characterisation of soil-dwelling bacteria and fungi. “We expanded our microbiological services relatively quickly to cater for the requirements of the pharmaceutical industry,” said Nüsslein. Nowadays, nadicom deals with environmental projects, works on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, the chemical industry, the food and cosmetics industries as well as analysing the contamination of buildings with mould fungi, for example.
“We use classical microbiology methods, but over time we have specialised in the use of modern molecular biology methods,” said Nüsslein. It does not take long for Nüsslein and his colleagues to find out whether and with which bacteria and fungi samples are contaminated. They use PCR (polymerase chain reaction) in both qualitative and quantitative investigations. The use of molecular fingerprinting, which leads to an accurate genetic profile of organisms, enables the researchers to identify any microorganism contained in a sample. The use of bioinformatic approaches, such as the TREE software package for the phylogenetic classification of microorganisms, complements the researchers' laboratory methods. The experts not only use established methods, but are constantly further developing the methods or looking for new ones. In this field, nadicom works closely with a group of microbiologists led by Prof. Dr. Reinhard Fischer from the Institute of Applied Biosciences at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), who is also a member of nadicom’s scientific advisory board. The cooperation between the two partners benefits from their close spatial vicinity, as the nadicom laboratory is in the same building as Prof. Fischer’s laboratory.
Biotechnological research involves the development and optimisation of production strains, the specific microbial stimulation of plant growth and the isolation and cultivation of microorganisms. A current KIT project investigates surface-active proteins and their effect on the formation of biofilms.
The nadicom laboratory has been up and running in Karlsruhe since 2005. In 2008, it was certified according to GMP (good manufacturing practice) standards, which guarantees that the company’s processes are of high quality and safety, something that is indispensable for work carried out on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. “The majority of our clients are big pharmaceutical companies,” said Nüsslein who also highlights that nadicom has experienced a fairly positive market development in 2010 and will be able to hire a sixth member of staff in 2011. nadicom’s investigations are currently mainly focused on the pharmaceutical industry, but the company is to an increasing extent also contracted to carry out investigations dealing with the identification and quantification of microorganisms in the field of plant-microbe interactions. Microscopic life is omnipresent and profilers such as nadicom will always be in great demand.
Anja DoldererExecutive Assistantnadicom Gesellschaft für angewandte Mikrobiologie mbHHertzstr. 16, Geb. 6.4076187 KarlsruheTel.: +49-721-6084-4481Fax: +49-721-6084-4618E-mail: anja.dolderer(at)nadicom.de