Dead or alive: Probiotics benefits beyond the grave

Post a commentBy Shane Starling from Milan, 27-Jun-2011

Related topics: Probiotics, Research, Probiotics and prebiotics

Dead probiotic bacteria that typically reside alongside live cultures in probiotic formulations, could be contributing to healthful effects, researchers told the Probiotech conference in Milan, Italy, last week.


Dead probiotics may be useful healthwise

Dr Bruno Pot, research director at the Pasteur Institute in Lille, France, said his latest research indicated dead bacteria had a role to play in conferring benefits to the host in formulations – even if they did not meet the World Health Organization definition of probiotics as being “live microorganisms”.

Dr Pot’s presentation focused on the idea that certain probiotics could be naturally selected to deliver anti-inflammatory benefits, and he highlighted how those cultures that die along the way, could still perform a function in probiotic function and cell signalling, although further research was required.

The observation was also discussed by Dr Luz Sanguansri, research team leader in delivery systems at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia, whose work in formulation and microencapsulation had led her to similar conclusions.


“All products with live cells also contain dead cells,” she said. “Is there a desirable ratio of live to dead cells?”

But her observation was made in the context of a talk about how microencapsulation methods are allowing shelf life extension, and how selection of particular strains could assist that process.

Natural selection, probiotics and drugs

Dr Pot went on to highlight how selecting strains could be refined to the point where they may offer drug-like performance in the treatment of maladies such as chronic inflammation.

“Probiotics can be selected with enhanced and anti-inflammatory functionality,” he said. “This functionality can be linked to metabolites formed, or can be caused by cell wall structures at the surface of the strain.


“The study of the underlying mechanisms, such as the probiotic activation of regulatory T cells promoting the development tolerance, will allow selecting even more efficient strains. These can lead to the development of specific probiotic preparations, or in case an active molecule has been identified, to specific drugs.”


Euromonitor’s head of health and wellness research, Ewa Hudson, predicted the global pre- and probiotics would be worth $32bn in 2015.

Other topics included probiotic films (Dr Bill Costerton, Allegheny-Singer Research Institute, US); probiotics in cleaning products (Dr Robin Temmerman, CEO, Chisal); probiotics in animal feed (Dr Marion Bernardeau, Danisco) and metagenomics (Dr Michiel Kleerebezem from NIZO Food Research in the Netherlands).

Event organiser Jean Michel Pommet, Gate2Tech said he hoped some of the discussions would be brought to the attention of regulators.

“It was great event for the multiple sectors we covered and the very high standards of all the talks and it showed how progress in science is helping regulators understand the sector,” he said.

“Some of the scientific issues discussed here about bioavailability and formulation need to be discussed now with regulators.”