The utilization of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin by 55 Bifidobacterium strains was investigated. Whereas FOS were fermented by most strains, only eight grew when inulin was used as the carbon source. Residual carbohydrates were analyzed by high-performance anion-exchange chromatography with pulsed amperometric detection after batch fermentation. A strain-dependent capability to degrade fructans of different lengths was observed. During batch fermentation on inulin, the short fructans disappeared first, and then the longer ones were gradually consumed. However, growth occurred through a single uninterrupted exponential phase without exhibiting polyauxic behavior in relation to the chain length. Cellular -fructofuranosidases were found in all of the 21 Bifidobacterium strains tested. Four strains were tested for extracellular hydrolytic activity against fructans, and only the two strains which ferment inulin showed this activity. Batch cultures inoculated with human fecal slurries confirmed the bifidogenic effect of both FOS and inulin and indicated that other intestinal microbial groups also grow on these carbon sources. We observed that bifidobacteria grew by cross-feeding on mono- and oligosaccharides produced by primary inulin intestinal degraders, as evidenced by the high hydrolytic activity of fecal supernatants. FOS and inulin greatly affected the production of short-chain fatty acids in fecal cultures; butyrate was the major fermentation product on inulin, whereas mostly acetate and lactate were produced on FOS.
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