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NSERC Presents 2 Minutes With Sylvain Moineau
Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Bioinformatics,
Université Laval


Video Name

2 Minutes with Sylvain Moineau


NSERC Communications



Release Date

February 3, 2014


Producing award-winning cheese depends on a producer’s ability to control the emergence of bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) in the milk fermentation process. For Agropur coopérative, that meant partnering with microbiologist Dr. Sylvain Moineau, a Canada Research Chair in Bacteriophages at Université Laval and one of the world’s leading experts on bacteriophages. Dr. Moineau also won one of NSERC's Synergy Awards for Innovation in 2013.

Sylvain Moineau

Viruses are probably one of the best-kept secrets in biology. They’re the most abundant biological entities on the planet. Among them are some viruses that specifically infect bacteria. They’re known as bacteriophages. We’re working with Agropur to try to understand how these viruses, or phages, adversely affect dairy fermentations. After coming back to Laval University, I started contacting various Canadian dairy companies.

Michel Pouliot

At the time, we were making our starter cultures in a more artisan fashion, but that approach couldn’t keep up with our growing needs and capacities. We wanted to move toward a more modern system, and we needed expertise. Once cheese production capacity reaches a certain level, a system is needed for managing the risk posed by phages so that the best starters can be used as often as possible, to ensure that the cheese is always of the highest quality.

When we detect an event or some minor issue or problem in starter activity, we send samples to Dr. Moineau at Laval University. It’s really like a continuous loop running between the factory and the scientist who’s checking whether there are any viruses present that are harmful to us. What we do is manage that risk. We make different starters, ones that aren’t sensitive, or we introduce resistant strains that go back to the cheese factory.

Sylvain Moineau

One of our key successes with Agropur is the very fact that we were able to take what we’d done in the lab, that worked very well in the lab, and scale it up for industry. We went from a few millilitres of milk, to litres, and then to millions of litres. We’re pretty proud of that.

Michel Pouliot

These partnerships should be looked at more like this: there’s the R, which is on the academic side, and the D, which is more on the industrial side. It’s a match made in heaven. People work together very closely. Academic scientists factor in or learn about real-life industrial conditions, and industrial scientists get information and keep up with the latest findings through close contact with academic researchers.

Sylvain Moineau

Without NSERC’s support, this collaboration with Agropur definitely would never have happened. We’ve been working with Agropur Co-op for 17 years now. It’s been a fantastic collaboration so far, and even after all this time we still enjoy working together.

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