In an effort to demonstrate the potential usefulness of Bacillus subtilis (natto) as a probiotic, we examined the effect of this organism on the growth of three strains of lactobacilli co-cultured aerobically in vitro. Addition of B. subtilis (natto) to the culture medium resulted in an increase in the number of viable cells of all lactobacilli tested. Since B. subtilis (natto) can produce catalase, which has been reported to exhibit a similar growth-promoting effect on lactobacilli, we also examined the effect of bovine catalase on the growth of Lactobacillus reuteri JCM 1112 and L. acidophilus JCM 1132. Both catalase and B. subtilis (natto) enhanced the growth of L. reuteri JCM 1112, whereas B. subtilis (natto) but not catalase enhanced the growth of L. acidophilus JCM 1132. In a medium containing 0.1 mM hydrogen peroxide, its toxic effect on L. reuteri JCM 1112 was abolished by catalase or B. subtilis (natto). In addition, a serine protease from B. licheniformis, subtilisin, improved the growth and viability of L. reuteri JCM 1112 and L. acidophilus JCM 1132 in the absence of hydrogen peroxide. These results indicate that B. subtilis (natto) enhances the growth and (or) viability of lactobacilli, possibly through production of catalase and subtilisin.