The use of bacterial spore formers as probiotics

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2005 Sep;29(4):813-35. doi: 10.1016/j.femsre.2004.12.001. Epub 2004 Dec 16.


The field of probiosis has emerged as a new science with applications in farming and aqaculture as alternatives to antibiotics as well as prophylactics in humans. Probiotics are being developed commercially for both human use, primarily as novel foods or dietary supplements, and in animal feeds for the prevention of gastrointestinal infections, with extensive use in the poultry and aquaculture industries. The impending ban of antibiotics in animal feed, the current concern over the spread of antibiotic resistance genes, the failure to identify new antibiotics and the inherent problems with developing new vaccines make a compelling case for developing alternative prophylactics. Among the large number of probiotic products in use today are bacterial spore formers, mostly of the genus Bacillus. Used primarily in their spore form, these products have been shown to prevent gastrointestinal disorders and the diversity of species used and their applications are astonishing. Understanding the nature of this probiotic effect is complicated, not only because of the complexities of understanding the microbial interactions that occur within the gastrointestinal tract (GIT), but also because Bacillus species are considered allochthonous microorganisms. This review summarizes the commercial applications of Bacillus probiotics. A case will be made that many Bacillus species should not be considered allochthonous microorganisms but, instead, ones that have a bimodal life cycle of growth and sporulation in the environment as well as within the GIT. Specific mechanisms for how Bacillus species can inhibit gastrointestinal infections will be covered, including immunomodulation and the synthesis of antimicrobials. Finally, the safety and licensing issues that affect the use of Bacillus species for commercial development will be summarized, together with evidence showing the growing need to evaluate the safety of individual Bacillus strains as well as species on a case by case by basis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacillus / genetics
  • Bacillus / isolation & purification*
  • Bacillus / physiology
  • Bacterial Infections / diet therapy*
  • Food Additives
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Probiotics / administration & dosage
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use*
  • Spores, Bacterial / isolation & purification
  • Spores, Bacterial / physiology*


  • Food Additives