Butyrate arising from microbial fermentation is important for the energy metabolism and normal development of colonic epithelial cells and has a mainly protective role in relation to colonic disease. While certain dietary substrates such as resistant starch appear to be butyrogenic in the colon, it is not known to what extent these stimulate butyrate production directly, e.g. by promoting amylolytic species, or indirectly, e.g. through cross-feeding of fermentation products. Cultural and molecular studies indicate that the most numerous butyrate-producing bacteria found in human faeces are highly oxygen-sensitive anaerobes belonging to the Clostridial clusters IV and XIVa. These include many previously undescribed species related to Eubacterium, Roseburia, Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus whose distribution and metabolic characteristics are under investigation. A better understanding of the microbial ecology of colonic butyrate-producing bacteria will help to explain the influence of diet upon butyrate supply, and to suggest new approaches for optimising microbial activity in the large intestine.
Copyright 2002 Federation of European Microbiological Societies