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Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Dec;56 Suppl 4:S44-9.

Analysis of the intestinal microflora using molecular methods.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


A large and complex bacterial community inhabits the distal intestinal tract of humans. This collection, known as the intestinal microflora, is dominated numerically by obligately anaerobic bacterial species. Many of these species have never been cultivated under laboratory conditions. Nucleic acid-based techniques now permit, however, the analysis of even the non-cultivable members of the bacterial community. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coupled with denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) provides a useful technique for comparisons of the composition of faecal or intestinal microfloras. PCR/DGGE has been shown to be useful in demonstrating changes that occur in the composition of the faecal microflora of infants administered antibacterial drugs. This research is important because treatment with oral antibiotics during the first 2 y of life has been identified as a predictor of subsequent atopic disease. The treatment of young children with broad spectrum oral antibiotics might produce perturbations in the composition of the intestinal microflora such that bacteria important in promoting Th1 mechanisms are depleted at a crucial age. This could result in Th2 dominance over Th1 immune responses to environmental antigens and an increased incidence of atopic disorders. PCR/DGGE provides a useful screening method to determine the impact of antibiotic treatment on the composition of the intestinal microflora of children and to identify the bacterial groups that are most affected.

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