Members of the genus Bifidobacterium were first described over a century ago and were quickly associated with a healthy intestinal tract due to their numerical dominance in breast-fed babies as compared to bottle-fed infants. Health benefits elicited by bifidobacteria to its host, as supported by clinical trials, have led to their wide application as probiotic components of health-promoting foods, especially in fermented dairy products. However, the relative paucity of genetic tools available for bifidobacteria has impeded development of a comprehensive molecular understanding of this genus. In this review we present a summary of current knowledge on bifidobacterial metabolism, classification, physiology and genetics and outline the currently available methods for genetically accessing and manipulating the genus.
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