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Enhancing Probiotic Products for Better Gut Health

Joanna Valanie Pereira, discusses their research in enhancing the health benefits of probiotic products. 

Gut health, one of the research areas, is being increasingly studied at the ARC Training Centre for Facilitated Advancement of Australian Bioactives (FAAB) Macquarie University, by collaborating with health industries. We work with leading Australian probiotic producers to develop better techniques to evaluate live bacterial cells in probiotic products that are available in the market. Why is it important to have live microbes in probiotic products? 

The human gut harbours diverse microorganisms that are collectively known as the “gut microbiome”. [1] Evidence suggests that there is an important correlation between the gut microbiome and human health, where the microbiome is involved in digestion of food and nutrition uptake, regulation of immune responses and protection from infections caused by harmful bacteria. [2,3] Specific alterations in the composition of the gut microbiome, can potentially lead to health issues such as diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel diseases and Crohn’s disease. [4] In such instances, the use of probiotics is thought to play a critical role in shaping the gut microbiome. [5] Probiotics are made of live microbes, predominantly bacteria and occasionally yeast, that are believed to offer health benefits to the host. [6] By introducing beneficial microorganisms into the gut, probiotics can help restore the balance and promote a diverse and healthy microbial community. 

The effectiveness of a probiotic product in conferring health benefits largely depends on the presence of a sufficient number of live microorganisms that can reach the gut and grow and reproduce. The existing technique used to determine the numbers of live microbes in probiotic products involves growing these microbes on specific growth media and counting the number of microbial colonies visible, which is known as plate count. [7] This method has limitations in accounting for the complete diversity of bacteria present in probiotic products largely because different bacteria need different growth conditions, and they compete for nutrients and resources. [8] As a result, some bacterial strains may go undetected, potentially leading to an inaccurate assessment of the product efficacy. To address the limitations of current techniques, ongoing research at the FAAB Centre Macquarie University aims to develop a high throughput technique called “flow cytometry”, that can separate and count individual microbial cells in probiotic products based on the microbe’s chemical and physical characteristics like shape and size. [9] These advancements will provide a more precise evaluation of the bacterial counts, ensuring that consumers receive the intended health benefits from probiotic products. Ultimately, we hope to help develop probiotics with a higher efficacy to maintain a healthy gut. 

[1] Kim, Seon-Kyun, et al. "Role of Probiotics in Human Gut Microbiome-Associated Diseases." Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, vol. 29, no. 9, 2019, pp. 1335-1340.

[2] Hemarajata, Peera, and James Versalovic. "Effects of probiotics on Gut Microbiota: Mechanisms of Intestinal Immunomodulation and Neuromodulation." Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology, vol. 6, no. 1, 2013, pp. 39-51.

[3]  Pandey, Kavita R., Suresh R. Naik, and Babu V. Vakil. "Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics-a review." Journal of Food Science and Technology, vol. 52, 2015, pp. 7577-7587.

[4] Markowiak, Paulina, and Katarzyna Śliżewska. "Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health." Nutrients, vol. 9, no. 9, 2017, p. 1021.

[5] Ibid. 

[6]  FAO/WHO. “Probiotics in Food. Health and Nutritional Properties and Guidelines for Evaluation.” Food Nutrition Paper, vol. 85, 2002, pp. 1-56.

[7] Wendel, Ulrika. "Assessing Viability and Stress Tolerance of Probiotics - A Review." Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 12, 2022, p. 4351.

[8] Davis, Catherine. "Enumeration of Probiotic Strains: Review of Culture-Dependent and Alternative Techniques to Quantify Viable Bacteria." Journal of Microbiological Methods, vol. 103, 2014, pp. 9-17.

[9] Ibid. 


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