Fermentation of beta-glucan fractions from barley [average molecular mass (MM), of 243, 172, and 137 kDa] and oats (average MM of 230 and 150 kDa) by the human faecal microbiota was investigated. Fractions were supplemented to pH-controlled anaerobic batch culture fermenters inoculated with human faecal samples from three donors, in triplicate, for each substrate. Microbiota changes were monitored by fluorescent in situ hybridization; groups enumerated were: Bifidobacterium genus, Bacteroides and Prevotella group, Clostridium histolyticum subgroup, Ruminococcus-Eubacterium-Clostridium (REC) cluster, Lactobacillus-Enterococcus group, Atopobium cluster, and clostridial cluster IX. Short-chain fatty acids and lactic acid were measured by HPLC. The C. histolyticum subgroup increased significantly in all vessels and clostridial cluster IX maintained high populations with all fractions. The Bacteroides-Prevotella group increased with all but the 243-kDa barley and 230-kDa oat substrates. In general beta-glucans displayed no apparent prebiotic potential. The SCFA profile (51 : 32 : 17; acetate : propionate : butyrate) was considered propionate-rich. In a further study a beta-glucan oligosaccharide fraction was produced with a degree of polymerization of 3-4. This fraction was supplemented to small-scale faecal batch cultures and gave significant increases in the Lactobacillus-Enterococcus group; however, the prebiotic potential of this fraction was marginal compared with that of inulin.