Background: Bifidobacteria is one of the major gut commensal groups found in infants. Their colonization is commonly associated with beneficial effects to the host through mechanisms like niche occupation and nutrient competition against pathogenic bacteria. Iron is an essential element necessary for most microorganisms, including bifidobacteria and efficient competition for this micronutrient is linked to proliferation and persistence. For this research we hypothesized that bifidobacteria in the gut of iron deficient infants can efficiently sequester iron. The aim of the present study was to isolate bifidobacteria in fecal samples of iron deficient Kenyan infants and to characterize siderophore production and iron internalization capacity.
Results: Fifty-six bifidobacterial strains were isolated by streaking twenty-eight stool samples from Kenyan infants, in enrichment media. To target strains with high iron sequestration mechanisms, a strong iron chelator 2,2-dipyridyl was supplemented to the agar media. Bifidobacterial isolates were first identified to species level by 16S rRNA sequencing, yielding B. bifidum (19 isolates), B. longum (15), B. breve (11), B. kashiwanohense (7), B. pseudolongum (3) and B. pseudocatenulatum (1). While most isolated bifidobacterial species are commonly encountered in the infantile gut, B. kashiwanohense was not frequently reported in infant feces. Thirty strains from culture collections and 56 isolates were characterized for their siderophore production, tested by the CAS assay. Siderophore activity ranged from 3 to 89% siderophore units, with 35 strains (41%) exhibiting high siderophore activity, and 31 (36%) and 20 (23%) showing intermediate or low activity. The amount of internalized iron of 60 bifidobacteria strains selected for their siderophore activity, was in a broad range from 8 to118 μM Fe. Four strains, B. pseudolongum PV8-2, B. kashiwanohense PV20-2, B. bifidum PV28-2a and B. longum PV5-1 isolated from infant stool samples were selected for both high siderophore activity and iron internalization.
Conclusions: A broad diversity of bifidobacteria were isolated in infant stools using iron limited conditions, with some strains exhibiting high iron sequestration properties. The ability of bifidobacteria to efficiently utilize iron sequestration mechanism such as siderophore production and iron internalization may confer an ecological advantage and be the basis for enhanced competition against enteropathogens.