Ghent University (UGent) occupies a specific position among the Flemish universities in Belgium (Europe). This position is defined in the UGent Mission Statement, which serves as the basis for the process of change and strategic policy planning at all levels. It is also the touchstone for the day-to-day management of the university. Ghent University:
Ghent University is a top 100 university and one of the major Belgian universities counting over 41,000 students and 9,000 employees. Located in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium and the cultural and economic heart of Europe, Ghent University is an active partner in national and international educational, scientific and industrial cooperation.
With a view to cooperation in research and scientific service, numerous research groups, centres and institutes have been founded over the years. Several of them are renowned worldwide, in various scientific disciplines such as biotechnology, aquaculture, microelectronics, history,... . We distinguish ourselves as a socially committed and pluralistic university in a broad international perspective.
Ghent University was founded in 1817 as a Latin-speaking State University by William I, King of the Netherlands, Ghent University is a relatively young university. After its independence in 1830, the Belgian State was in charge of the administration of Ghent University; French was the new official academic language. In 1930 Ghent University became the first Dutch-speaking university in Belgium. The Decree of 1991 assigned great autonomy to the university.
The past 200 years, Ghent University employed many eminent scientists such as Nobel Prize winners Corneille Heymans and Maurice Maeterlinck, Leo Baekeland, Joseph Guislain, Walter Fiers, Marc Van Montagu, and Peter Piot. You also find many prominent persons among our alumni such as Robert Cailliau (Internet pioneer), Dirk Frimout (astronaut), Peter Piot (United Nations) and Jacques Rogge (former Chairman IOC). Today, after decades of uninterrupted growth, Ghent University is one of the leading institutions of higher education and research in the Low Countries. Ghent University is an open, committed and pluralistic university with a broad international perspective.
Our 11 faculties are composed of 117 faculty departments. These departments offer more than 230 high-quality courses in every one of their scientific disciplines, each inspired by innovative research.
Within Ghent University, the Laboratory of Food Analysis has specialized in the development and validation of analytical methodologies for the detection and quantification of foreign substances in miscellaneous food types (i.e. growth promoters, veterinary drugs, process contaminants and mycotoxins). Current focus mainly lies on mycotoxin analysis. The Laboratory of Food Analysis has established 4 research lines coordinated by Prof. Dr. Sarah De Saeger, namely mycotoxins & human health, diagnostics, fungal metabolomics and mycotoxin & occurrence.
Mycotoxins & Human Health
As mycotoxins are important toxicological contaminants in the food chain, it is crucial to estimate their exposure and to assess their impact on public health. Recently the direct measurement of biomarkers of exposure in biological fluids has been proposed as a suitable alternative to perform a more accurate mycotoxin exposure assessment at individual levels. For this reason the Laboratory of Food Analysis started several studies whereby a multi-toxin approach was applied to evaluate the exposure in the population on a large-scale (FOD RT 11/02, FOODBALL and IARC-UGent-IWT-project). Another focus of this research line is to unravel the impact of the occurrence of multiple mycotoxins on human diseases.
Innovative detection methods are developed both for screening as well as confirmatory analysis of mycotoxins. Immuno-based assays, including rapid tests such as lateral flow dipsticks as well as biosensors are developed and applied to food, feed and biological samples. Focus is also put on synthesis of recognition elements (monoclonal antibodies and molecularly imprinted polymers) and new sensitive labels (quantum dot nanolabels). For identification and confirmation, chromatographic methods are developed mainly with mass spectrometric detection. A metabolomics platform has been established.
With the rise of the genomic era, it has become clear that fungi have the genetic machinery to produce many more metabolites than are currently known. The Laboratory of Food Analysis is using HRMS-technology to enable comprehensive profiling of fungal metabolomes. Primary focus is on Aspergillus flavus, mainly known for its ability to produce the toxic and carcinogenic aflatoxins. Genome analysis of this fungus identified 55 gene clusters predicted to be capable of producing secondary metabolites. By using a strategy-involving gene targeting and HRMS-based comparative metabolomics, our researchers will unravel yet unknown metabolites produced by this fungi and determine the genes and the pathways involved in their biosynthesis. The Laboratory of Food Analysis is also applying HRMS for untargeted analysis to explore the diversity of secondary metabolites produced by other fungi, namely Fusarium, Claviceps and Alternaria Spp.
Mycotoxins & Occurrence
Mycotoxins are stated to be a major public health concern because they are the most hazardous of all food and feed contaminants in terms of chronic toxicity, and main clinical outcomes include carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, nephrotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, estrogenicity, immunosuppression and dermal infestations. Both food and feed crops can, therefore, be affected through an amalgam of mycotoxins. Multiple occurrence of mycotoxins produced by one fungal species is plausible, and the plant or fungus is also capable of converting these xenobiotics into modified (masked) mycotoxins. Generating data on these mycotoxins is crucial. The Laboratory of Food Analysis focuses on the development and validation of multi-mycotoxin LC-MS/MS, and to apply these methods in large surveys covering the multi-mycotoxins from Asia, Europe to Africa.
The Laboratory of Food Analysis is founder and coordinator of the association research group MYTOX 'MYCOTOXINS and TOXIGENIC MOULDS' which strives to solve current mycotoxin problems endemic in human food and animal feed by incorporating it into a global research framework. This well-structured multidisciplinary research group, which deals with all known aspects of mycotoxins and toxigenic moulds, is able to provide the most adequate strategies and solutions for the different stakeholders. Also, since 2017, MYTOX coordinates MYTOX SOUTH. MYTOX-SOUTH intends to harness the expertise and infrastructure available at UGent to strengthen the capacity of the Southern partners to tackle the mycotoxin problem and the associated food safety and food security issues. MYTOX-SOUTH is a partnership to improve food security & food safety through mitigation of mycotoxins at global level with the following long term goals: (1) building human capacity, (2) bridging the gap between researchers and the real stakeholders and (3) creating a sustainable network.