Molecular approaches to study probiotic bacteria


Functional foods comprising probiotic bacteria are receiving increasing attention from the scientific community and science funding agencies. An essential aspect relating to the functionality of probiotic-based foods is to develop molecular methods to determine the presence, activity and viability of probiotic bacteria in the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

The GI tract is composed of a complex ecosystem of various microbial habitats colonized by numerous different commensal micro-organisms. This indigenous gut microbiota is essential to the overall health of the host by performing important physiological functions. In particular, they protect against pathogenic bacteria and drive the development of the immune system during neonatal life.

Further metabolic activities of the GI microbiota that beneficially affect the host include continued degradation of food components, vitamin production, and production of short chain fatty acids that feed the colonic mucosa. It is clear that factors such as diet, sickness, stress, or medication can result in loss of well-being of the host, and it is assumed that some of these symptoms are due to perturbation of what is termed the normal balance of the gut microbiota. Knowledge of the structure and function of the standard microbiota, and its response to diet, genetic background and lifetime of the host must be taken into account when designing probiotic-based functional foods.

The application of molecular techniques for detection and identification of microbes has provided a major breakthrough in the analysis of microbial ecosystems and their function. The successful application and further potential of these molecular methods to study probiotic bacteria and their impact on the standard GI microbiota is discussed below.

Joise Angelina
Journal of Probiotics and Health
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