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Res Microbiol. 2006 Nov;157(9):803-10. Epub 2006 Jul 24.

Accuracy of species identity of commercial bacterial cultures intended for probiotic or nutritional use.

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  • 1Laboratory of Microbiology, Ghent University, K.L. Ledeganckstraat 35, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.


Independent studies have indicated that the microbiological composition of several commercial probiotic products does not correspond to the product label information. The present study set out to investigate to what extent these problems may be due to the use of misidentified cultures at the onset of production. For this purpose, 213 cultures of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and propionibacteria intended for probiotic or nutritional use were collected from 26 manufacturers of probiotic products, three international culture collections and one research institute. The accuracy of the taxonomic identity provided by the strain depositor was assessed through a polyphasic approach based on validated and standardized identification methods including fluorescent amplified fragment length polymorphism (FAFLP) and repetitive DNA element (rep)-PCR fingerprinting, protein profiling and partial 16S rDNA sequencing. The majority of the cultures were received as members of the genera Lactobacillus (57%) and Bifidobacterium (22%); however, propionibacteria, enterococci, Lactococcus lactis (subsp. lactis), Streptococcus thermophilus and pediococci were also obtained. Upon reidentification, 46 cases of misidentification at the genus level (n=19) or species level (n=27) were recorded, including 34 commercial probiotic cultures deposited by 10 different companies. The finding that more than 28% of the commercial cultures intended for human and/or animal probiotic use were misidentified at the genus or species level suggests that many cases of probiotic product mislabeling originate from the incorporation of incorrectly identified strains. A large number of these discrepancies could be related to the use of methods with limited taxonomic resolution (e.g., API strips) or that are unsuitable for reliable identification up to species level (e.g., pulsed-field gel electrophoresis and randomly amplified polymorphic DNA analysis). The current study has again highlighted that reliable identification of LAB and propionibacteria requires molecular methods with a high taxonomic resolution that are linked to up-to-date identification libraries.

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