Patented Prebiotic Helps Good Bacteria Take on Bad
By Jan Suszkiw
June 18, 2007
Beneficial bacteria that promote
intestinal health in humans and livestock could get a boost of their own,
thanks to a new method for turning certain sugars from corn and other crops
into complex carbohydrates called oligosaccharides.
According to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist
Cote, the oligosaccharides have commercial potential as
"prebiotics." These are food or feed additives that nourish
populations of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and other
"probiotic" bacteria that live inside their hosts' colons.
Besides unlocking minerals, vitamins and other nutrients from the
oligosaccharides, probiotic bacteria can also make the colon less hospitable to
pathogens, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli, that can
cause illness in humans.
When fed to chicks or piglets, for example, the prebiotics could bolster the
growth and activity of probiotic bacteria so they would outcompete
Salmonella for space and nutrientsa potential boon later on, when
the animals mature and are slaughtered for their meat.
Cote, who's in the
Bioproducts and Biocatalysis Research Unit at Peoria, Ill., codeveloped the
oligosaccharides with Scott Holt, an associate professor with
Western Illinois University's
Department of Biological Sciences.
They envision formulating the oligosaccharides as a prebiotic product that
could be administered orally.
Their production method uses a microbial enzyme called alternansucrase to
catalyze a series of biochemical reactions that convert sugars like sucrose,
glucose or maltitol into different kinds of oligosaccharides.
Depending on which were used, the resulting oligosaccharides bolstered the
laboratory growth of Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Bacteroides and
some enterococci bacteria, but not pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli
or Clostridium perfringens.
Cote's research is part of the ARS unit's broader mission to develop new,
value-added uses for corn, soybeans and other Midwest farm crops.
ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
chief scientific research agency, patented the oligosaccharide technology (US
7,182,954 B1) in February 2007.