With the gut microbiome increasingly recognized as a major player in shaping human biology, probiotic treatments—introducing a few billion purportedly beneficial micro-organisms into human gut communities composed of trillions of microbes—are under intense investigation. Study designs and results have been a mixed bag, and the impact of probiotics remains unclear. Enter the probiotics’ conceptual cousin, prebiotics.
Although probiotics consist of live microbes, prebiotics are microbe food: substances metabolized by microbes that are not digestible by the host. As researchers gain a more complete picture of the forces that shape microbial gut diversity, some think prebiotics could confer health benefits that probiotics have struggled to demonstrate, in part because prebiotics can nourish multiple microbial species already in place, triggering broader and potentially more robust changes in the host’s microbiome and health.
[Read the story at PNAS Front Matter // December 13, 2016]