Cross-feeding between bifidobacteria and butyrate-producing colon bacteria explains bifdobacterial competitiveness, butyrate production, and gas production

Int J Food Microbiol. 2011 Sep 1;149(1):73-80. doi: 10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2011.03.003. Epub 2011 Mar 28.


Inulin-type fructans are not digested and reach the human colon intact, where they are selectively fermented by the colon microbiota, in particular bifidobacteria. As a result, they are converted, directly or indirectly, to short-chain fatty acids and other organic acids, as well as gases, and lead to both bifidogenic and butyrogenic health-promoting effects. Bifidobacteria display phenotypic variation on strain level as to their capacity to degrade inulin-type fructans. Also, different chain lengths of inulin-type fructans may stimulate different subgroups within the bifidobacterial population. The end-metabolites of inulin-type fructan degradation by bifidobacteria reflect their growth rates on these polymers. Other colon bacteria are also able to degrade inulin-type fructans, as is the case for lactobacilli, Bacteroides, certain enterobacteria, and butyrate producers. Bacterial cross-feeding mechanisms in the colon lay at the basis of overall butyrate production, a functional characteristic of several colon bacteria that is always accompanied by gas production. Finally, specificity of polysaccharide use by the colon microbiota may determine diet-induced alterations in the microbiota and consequent metabolic effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacteroides / metabolism
  • Bifidobacterium / growth & development
  • Bifidobacterium / metabolism*
  • Butyrates / metabolism*
  • Colon / metabolism
  • Colon / microbiology*
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / metabolism
  • Fermentation
  • Fructans / metabolism
  • Gases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inulin / metabolism
  • Lactobacillus / metabolism
  • Metagenome*


  • Butyrates
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Fructans
  • Gases
  • Inulin