Scientists hoping to revolutionise the probiotics industry with a special coating to help people absorb more beneficial live bacteria have received an international patent to take their work forward.
The researchers at the University of Wolverhampton have also discovered a way to use the product to improve probiotic survival in fruit juices, as an alternative to the traditional dairy products.
The team from the microbiology department, led by Dr Iza Radecka, initially discovered that many probiotics die off due to acid levels in the stomach and beneficial bacteria are significantly diminished before they reach the intestines where it is needed.
They developed a special coating, poly-y-glutamic acid (γ-PGA), which protects against stomach acid and has just been granted an international patent.
The applied biopolymer is completely biodegradable and is able to remain intact in the stomach and continue to the intestine, where it disintegrates, releasing the bacteria.
Dr Radecka’s team showed that beneficial bacteria, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria strains, were able to survive for up to four hours when they were protected with the polymer. Not protected bacteria only survived for up to two hours.
Latest research has now shown that γ-PGA can be successfully used to immobilise probiotic Bifidobacterium strains and help them survive during storage in acidic fruit juices, such as orange and pomegranate.
Dr Radecka said: “Our work is very significant for the probiotics industry, which is rapidly growing as consumers seek the benefits of good bacteria.
“We already knew that γ-PGA can potentially protect Bifidobacterium strains against the acidic conditions of the stomach. Our latest work suggests it could potentially be used as a single protective agent for probiotic bacteria during freeze drying, storage in fruit juices and during transit through the gastrointestinal tract.
“Using juice for probiotic delivery will be particularly beneficial for individuals who are lactose intolerant or are allergic to milk proteins, as dairy products are presently the major sources on the market.”
The team is now focusing on scaling up the process of production of PGA and working with industry to develop the patent commercially.
The new technology could also be used for the delivery of certain drugs and even increase calcium absorption.
Notes to Editors: The probiotic industry is worth over £200 million a year in the UK. Probiotic foods contain live beneficial bacteria which may help maintain and improve gut health, strengthen immunity and fight gastro-intestinal and respiratory disorders.
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