Biopolymer protection may be boost to probiotic industry

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Probiotic bacteria, Gut flora, Probiotic

A new biopolymer technology that protects probiotic bacteria during transit through the body could provide a major boost for the industry, according to new research.

The research, due to be presented today at the UK’s Society for General Microbiology's autumn conference, reports on a new biopolymer delivery vehicle for the delivery of probiotic bacteria to the gut.

The researchers, led by Dr Iza Radecka from the University of Wolverhampton, noted that one of the challenges for manufacturers of probiotic foods is getting high enough numbers of these bacteria into the intestines, because most perish during processing, storage, and under the heavy acidic conditions of the stomach.

“We thought, if we could coat probiotic bacteria with this, then they could perhaps better survive the harsh environment of the stomach,”​ said Radecka.

“Our research uses a novel biodegradable, edible and non-toxic biopolymer to protect bacteria during storage and after ingestion so that consistent numbers of live and viable friendly bacteria can be administered via food products,” ​she explained.

Stability issue

Radecka told NutraIngredients that there are currently problems with the stability of probiotic populations in products because of the large losses of viable population seen during freeze drying of products, storage time, and during the low pH conditions of the stomach.

“By coating the bacteria with this polymer, we found that the survival at these three steps is fantastic – we can have nearly the same number of bacteria at the end of the process as the number at the beginning,” ​said Radecka.

She explained that the structure of the new biopolymer is very stable at lower pH values, but becomes more relaxed as pH increases to values of around 6 or 7.

The researcher team said that new biodegradable polymer is able to remain intact in the stomach and continue to the intestine, where it disintegrates, releasing the bacteria.

Initial studies have shown that probiotics including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria strains were able to survive in a simulated gastric juice solution for up to four hours when they were coated with the polymer – compared to only two hours survival for non-coated populations.

Industry boost

According to Euromonitor International, the value of the global probiotic market, including yoghurt, supplements and juice, was over $20bn (€14.2bn) in 2008, whilst the European probiotic yoghurt market alone was said to be worth $6.73bn (€4.8bn).

The researchers said that they are looking to now perform in vivo​ research on the human digestive system, whilst working on ways to improve the production and costs of the biopolymer vehicle.

“From a health point of view it would be nice to deliver a better amount of probiotic bacteria to the gut, and keep the gut healthy as we known probiotic bacteria can,” ​said Radecka.

“If we an keep the maximum number of cells alive to deliver to the gut then I am sure we can improve human health,”​ she added.

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