Gaining A Better Under­ Standing of Probiotics

A recently released self­learning programme teaches professionals the different modes of action of probiotics. Marcelo Lang, global marketing excellence at Chr. Hansen, tells us more.

It’s a difficult task to choose the right probiotic since probiotics have various modes of action which support the health of animals. According to Marcelo Lang, this was the reason for setting up a programme for professionals in the industry: “The aim of this programme is to educate professionals in the animal protein industry on the modes of action of probiotic bacteria.”

Why is it important to understand the modes of action of probiotics?

There is a connection between the typically measured variables of economic importance in the production of animal agriculture and probiotic bacteria’s major modes of action. At the same time, not all probiotics are the same. Strain matters! By gaining a better un­derstanding of what probiotics do and how they affect performance in farm animals, veterinarians, nutritionists, and other professionals can make better decisions about which products will help the animals in their care.

Not all probiotics are the same.

Strain matters!

Is there a lack of knowledge in the feed industry regarding the use of probiotics?

There’s a lack of knowledge, but it’s an uneven picture. Some professionals are quite familiar with the effects of probiotics and use them very effectively, while others still haven’t caught up and are missing out. Thanks to new techniques, the science is advancing so quickly that even those professionals who are already familiar with and using probiotics will have a lot to gain from this programme.

What is your target group for the programme?

We developed the Modes of Action programme with food animal veterinarians and nutritionists in mind. Other professionals in the industry will also benefit from the program, but they may find some aspects a bit challenging. For example, the lessons on the effects of probiotics on the microbiome or the modulation of the innate and adaptive immune system may require some extra attention.

Can you tell us a bit more about the content of the programme?

There are four courses. The first one is a short introduction to the overall programme. The other three courses contain two or three lessons each, divided by specific types of interactions of probiotics with feedstuffs, with other microbes, and with the host. At the end of each lesson, there’s a short quiz to help reinforce what has been learned.

What is the mode of action of probiotics?

Probiotic bacteria affect animal health and performance through interactions with feedstuffs, with other microbes, and with the host animal. In interactions with feedstuffs, we learn how these bacterial actions improve the digestion and availability of essential nutrients. In interactions with other microbes, we learn how probiotic bacteria successfully outcompete and eliminate potentially pathogenic organisms from their microenvironment and how those actions can lead to lasting positive changes in the intestinal microbiome. Finally, in interactions with the host, we learn about the myriad interactions of probiotic bacteria with the intestinal lining of their host. These interactions actively support the major barrier and immune functions of the intestinal tract.

Can you say more about these different modes of action?

When interacting with feedstuffs, some probiotics can convert sugars to organic acids that improve the intestinal environment and that serve as precursors to absorbable volatile fatty acids. Some probiotics produce an array of enzymes that drive the digestion of relatively hard-to-digest fibres and that improve the solubility of proteins.

When interacting with other microbes, probiotics are able to produce and secrete potent antimicrobial peptides that kill potentially pathogenic organisms, without causing any harm to other probiotic or commensal organisms.

Probiotic bacteria can competitively exclude the binding of potentially pathogenic organisms to intestinal microvilli, the site of nutrient absorption. Probiotic bacteria support the proper development of absorptive capacity in young, growing animals. They also actively support the barrier functions of the intestine tract, specifically the proper function of apical tight junctions. In addition, probiotic bacteria interact with specialized cells of an animal’s immune system to improve its capacity to respond to challenges.

What are the health benefits for animals when using probiotics?

Through their effects on feedstuffs, probiotics improve the digestion and availability of essential nutrients; these are nutrients that animals can use to maintain themselves, defend themselves, grow, and produce meat, milk, or eggs. Direct antagonism of potentially pathogenic organisms helps keep your animals healthy and thriving.

Gaining an understanding of the trillions of organisms that make up the intestinal microbiome is an essential element in making the most informed product choices for your animals.

Finally, through their direct effects on the host, probiotics reinforce the gut barrier functions, which stop pathogenic organisms from invading animal tissues and causing disease.

How do you know which probiotics to use in a certain situation?

Not all bacteria are equal in their ability to interact positively with feedstuffs, with other microbes and with the host: strain matters! Choosing the right probiotic depends on the specific situation or challenge facing each particular food animal production system. Understanding the modes of action of probiotic bacteria will enable you to make the most informed product choices for the animals in your care.