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Adv Biochem Eng Biotechnol. 2016;156:433-464.

Anaerobes as Sources of Bioactive Compounds and Health Promoting Tools.

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Biotechnology, Center for Chemistry & Chemical Engineering, Lund University, 221 00, Lund, Sweden.


Aerobic microorganisms have been sources of medicinal agents for several decades and an impressive variety of drugs have been isolated from their cultures, studied and formulated to treat or prevent diseases. On the other hand, anaerobes, which are believed to be the oldest life forms on earth and evolved remarkably diverse physiological functions, have largely been neglected as sources of bioactive compounds. However, results obtained from the limited research done so far show that anaerobes are capable of producing a range of interesting bioactive compounds that can promote human health. In fact, some of these bioactive compounds are found to be novel in their structure and/or mode of action.Anaerobes play health-promoting roles through their bioactive products as well as application of whole cells. The bioactive compounds produced by these microorganisms include antimicrobial agents and substances such as immunomodulators and vitamins. Bacteriocins produced by anaerobes have been in use as preservatives for about 40 years. Because these substances are effective at low concentrations, encounter relatively less resistance from bacteria and are safe to use, there is a growing interest in these antimicrobial agents. Moreover, several antibiotics have been reported from the cultures of anaerobes. Closthioamide and andrimid produced by Clostridium cellulolyticum and Pantoea agglomerans, respectively, are examples of novel antibiotics of anaerobe origin. The discovery of such novel bioactive compounds is expected to encourage further studies which can potentially lead to tapping of the antibiotic production potential of this fascinating group of microorganisms.Anaerobes are widely used in preparation of fermented foods and beverages. During the fermentation processes, these organisms produce a number of bioactive compounds including anticancer, antihypertensive and antioxidant substances. The well-known health promoting effect of fermented food is mostly due to these bioactive compounds. In addition to their products, whole cell anaerobes have very interesting applications for enhancing the quality of life. Probiotic anaerobes have been on the market for many years and are receiving growing acceptance as health promoters. Gut anaerobes have been used to treat patients suffering from severe Clostridium difficile infection syndromes including diarrhoea and colitis which cannot be treated by other means. Whole cell anaerobes are also studied to detect and cure cancer. In recent years, evidence is emerging that anaerobes constituting the microbiome are linked to our overall health. A dysfunctional microbiome is believed to be the cause of many diseases including cancer, allergy, infection, obesity, diabetes and several other disorders. Maintaining normal microflora is believed to alleviate some of these serious health problems. Indeed, the use of probiotics and prebiotics which favourably change the number and composition of the gut microflora is known to render a health promoting effect. Our interaction with the microbiome anaerobes is complex. In fact, not only our lives but also our identities are more closely linked to the anaerobic microbial world than we may possibly imagine. We are just at the beginning of unravelling the secret of association between the microbiome and human body, and a clear understanding of the association may bring a paradigm shift in the way we diagnose and treat diseases and disorders. This chapter highlights some of the work done on bioactive compounds and whole cell applications of the anaerobes that foster human health and improve the quality of life.


Active peptides; Anaerobe; Antibiotic; Anticancer; Bacteriocin; Bacteriotherapy; Microbiome

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