Explore Crop-Made Prebiotics to Bolster Gut Bacteria
By Jan Suszkiw
May 16, 2003
Ongoing studies by
Agricultural Research Service scientists
suggest that making prebiotics from carbohydrates, using a new enzyme process,
may expand markets for corn and other commodity crops.
Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates such as inulin and short-chain sugars,
called oligosaccharides, that pass undigested from the lower intestine to the
colon. There, the carbohydrates are consumed by Bifidobacterium and
other beneficial bacteria that release vitamins, minerals and nutrients that
might not otherwise be available to their hosts--human and animal. The bacteria
may also change the colon environment such that pathogens like Salmonella
In this case, ARS chemist Greg Côté and cooperators found that
an enzyme-based process for making alternan--a promising bulking agent--also
yielded oligosaccharides that stimulate the growth of Bifidobacterium
In Europe and Asia, consumers seeking to improve their gastrointestinal
health can now buy prebiotic products specifically formulated to bolster
populations of these and other bacterial gut colonists. The U.S. market for
prebiotics is comparatively young, but growing. Côté's
fermentation studies at ARS' National
Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., eventually
could offer U.S. makers a way to mass-produce the oligosaccharides from a
domestic commodity: carbohydrate-rich corn, soybean, beet and cane crops.
Arland Hotchkiss, at ARS' Eastern
Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Penn., has similar aspirations--but
for pectin from citrus peels and other crop byproducts.
Early lab results from Côté 's collaborators, Scott Holt and
Candace Miller-Fosmore of Western Illinois
University in Macomb, indicate the oligosaccharides nourish several
beneficial strains of Bifidobacterium, but not pathogens such as
Salmonella, Escherichia coli and Clostridium. Côté
discussed the results last spring at the
Society's national meeting.
This April, ARS applied for patent protection covering the synthesis and
potential use of some of the prebiotics as food additives for both people and
The research comes at a time when 10 million Americans annually require
hospitalized care for gastrointestinal problems ranging from constipation and
diarrhea to ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.