Genomics could offer much-needed support for probiotic claims

Related tags Bacteria

New gene technology could provide further evidence to support
probiotic bacteria, often criticised by the medical profession for
having insufficient science behind the claims made about their
health benefits.

Speaking at an international food conference taking place in Dublin this week, Professor Daniel O'Sullivan of the University of Minnesota told the audience that genomics could provide scientists with new understanding of how probiotic bacteria works.

According to Professor O' Sullivan, understanding probiotic mechanisms is the greatest scientific challenge in probiotic research. But information hidden in the bacterial genes holds the key to learning how probiotics function in the human body.

Better knowledge of these mechanisms would help to support health claims for the numerous foods containing the bacteria. Regulators are increasingly looking to regulate health claims and proposed laws in Europe especially could threaten many of the claims being used on probitoic products today, such as 'enhances well-being'.

But O'Sullivan said that computer-assisted analysis can predict the functions of individual genes, compare them with genes from other bacteria and identify their evolutionary origins.

"The technology now exists to scrutinise the tiny worlds of these gut-friendly bugs and dismantle their genetic material. Special DNA microchips are used to tell which genes are switched 'on' or 'off' depending on the conditions encountered by the bacteria as they pass through the digestive system,"​ he said.

He added that probiotic research to date has been criticised for depending more on mystique than science. However, genomics has the capacity to reveal the true value of these beneficial bacteria.

The two-day conference, 'Thinking about Tomorrow'​, is being held as part of Ireland's presidency of the EU and is being attended by 300 scientists and food industry representatives from Europe and the US.

Related topics Markets Functional Dairy

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