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Annu Rev Nutr. 1986;6:155-78.

Gastrointestinal microflora in mammalian nutrition.


A mammal is a complex organism consisting of eukaryotic animal cells and eukaryotic and prokaryotic microbial cells. Most of the microorganisms reside in communities in the gastrointestinal tract. These gastrointestinal microfloras are known to serve nutritional functions in ruminants, pseudoruminants, and monogastric mammals with only modest or no foregut fermentations but with extensive hindgut fermentations in blind cecal pouches. In adult animals, the microflora hydrolyzes exogenous (dietary) and endogenous polymers, and provides the adult with all or at least a significant proportion of its carbon, energy, vitamins, and macromolecular building blocks. The flora also functions as a conservator of nitrogen that would otherwise be excreted as urea. In exchange, the flora competes directly with the host tissues for nutrients ingested in the diet, and also competes indirectly by somewhat repressing the absorptive capacities of the animal tissues. When the synergism is in balance, the animal tissues and the microflora operate in harmony for the health and nutritional welfare of the host as a whole. The system may be unbalanced by antibacterial drugs that destroy the microflora and by diseases of the animal tissues that destroy the controls regulating where indigenous communities localize in the tract, their microbial composition, and their biochemical activities. At such times, the nutrition of the animal tissues can be adversely affected to the extreme. Humans living in developed and developing countries have extensive microfloras in their hindguts. Humans living in developing countries may also have extensive microfloras in their small bowels. Those floras may function in nutrition of the animal tissues of man much the same as do floras in similar locations in the gastrointestinal tracts of mammals other than man. However, animals of some species other than human gain much of the nutritional benefit from their microflora through the practice of coprophagy. Since adult humans do not normally practice coprophagy, any nutritional benefit from the microflora depends upon the capacity of the bowel mucosa, principally that of the large bowel, to absorb bacterial products, e.g. short-chain volatile fatty acids. Such absorption undoubtedly occurs, but is surely not a major source of carbon and energy for the animal tissues of man.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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