Prof. Gisèle LaPointe

A University of Guelph food scientist working to make dairy products more sustainable by better controlling microbes has received a prestigious multimillion-dollar federal research chair.

Gisèle LaPointe has been named the NSERC/DFO (Dairy Farmers of Ontario) Industrial Research Chair in Dairy Microbiology.

Among the most esteemed grants awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Industrial Research Chairs recognize researchers considered international leaders and exceptional among their peers.

“This Industrial Research Chair at the University of Guelph is demonstrating the significant impact of academic-industry collaborations,” said Bettina Hamelin, NSERC’s vice president, research partnerships.

“NSERC is proud to support these important partnerships, giving researchers the tools and resources they need to develop innovative solutions to improve the economy and well-being of Canadians.”

The chair is worth $2 million over five years, with NSERC and DFO each providing $1 million.

“This is wonderful recognition of Professor LaPointe’s and the University’s research excellence, and a great boon for the dairy industry and consumers,” said Malcolm Campbell, U of G’s vice-president (research).

“Professor LaPointe’s research will lead to new innovations and strategies that improve life for Canadians by enhancing the benefits of dairy products. Her research will also sustain the strengths of Canada’s dairy industry – a powerful, positive economic driver in this country by enhancing the high quality and safe dairy products for which this industry is deservedly world-renowned.”

The Canadian dairy sector contributes about $19.9 billion to the country’s gross domestic product and provides about 220,000 jobs. U of G’s research association with the dairy industry stems from 1887.

LaPointe is known internationally for her food microbiology research, especially how microbes interact in food systems, focusing on their metabolic activities in milk and dairy products.

In the dairy industry, managing microbial ecosystems is key to product quality, starting from the farm environment, through processing to shelf life and to human health.

“Our goal is to increase efficiency and add value to dairy processes,” LaPointe said. She will develop new strategies to improve the sustainable use of dairy co-products and study interactions in microbial ecosystems during production and processing.

LaPointe will investigate the effect of dairy ingredients on gut microbial community structure and activity. She is also interested in developing and adding probiotics and other functional components to dairy products.

LaPointe joined U of G in 2015 as the Dairy Farmers of Ontario Professor in Dairy Microbiology. Formerly the director of the Food Science and Nutrition Department at Laval University, she was a post-doctoral researcher at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Health Canada. Her research has been supported by NSERC, FRQNT-Novalait and Genome Canada, and she serves on the editorial boards of several high-profile microbiology journals.