Probiotics and Prebiotics

The interest of our research Group is focused on understanding the interaction of probiotic microorganisms and prebiotic substrates with consumers, with the final aim of developing foods with beneficial health effects.

Along the 20th century the relationship between nutrition and health was scientifically documented and the role of specific nutrients in human physiology was unraveled. This knowledge formed the basis for the identification of foods that beneficially affect one or more target functions in the body beyond adequate nutritional effects in a way that is relevant to either an improved state of health and well-being and/or reduction of risk of disease (Functional Foods). In the functional foods area, the products containing probiotic microorganisms or prebiotic compounds are among the most successful segments. Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host” whereas the most commonly accepted definition for Prebiotics refers to “food ingredients to be fermented selectively produce specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microbiota conferring benefits on an individual’s health. ” Both probiotics and prebiotics exert, at least partially, their beneficial effects by modulating the intestinal microbiota.

The scientific activity of our research group in the field of probiotics, prebiotics and functional foods began with the study and characterization of commercially available probiotics and the products containing them. Then the research activity expanded to the characterization of the microbiota of the human gastrointestinal tract of different population groups. These studies allow the identification of the specific intestinal microbiota alterations present in different human populations. Then the isolation and characterization of microorganisms allows the subsequent selection of the most suitable probiotics for normalizing the alterations observed in a specific target population. The ultimate goal is to apply these microorganisms, along with specific prebiotic substrates, to improve human health through the development of functional dairy products intended for specific population groups.

The multidisciplinary nature of this scientific activity has helped us to establish an extensive collaborations network with both national and foreign research groups from different research areas: immunology, physiology, chemistry or medicine.