Loss in probiotic viability upon exposure to stressful storage and transport conditions has plagued the probiotic market worldwide. Lactobacillus acidophilus is an important probiotic that is added to various functional foods. It is known to be fairly labile and susceptible to temperature variations that it encounters during processing and storage which increases production cost. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that pre-exposure to sub-lethal doses of stress, particularly, temperature and pH, leads to improved survival of various probiotics when they subsequently encounter the same stress of a much greater magnitude. Attempts to adapt L. acidophilus to temperatures as high as 65 °C to arrive at a thermotolerant variant have not been reported previously. To improve viability at elevated temperatures, we gradually adapted the L. acidophilus NCFM strain to survival at 65 °C for 40 min. Following adaptation, the variant showed a 2-log greater survival compared to wild-type at 65 °C. Interestingly, this thermotolerant variant also demonstrated a 2-log greater stability compared to wild-type at pH 2.0. The improved pH and temperature stress tolerance exhibited by this variant remained unaltered even when the strain was lyophilized. Moreover, the thermotolerant variant demonstrated improved stability compared to wild-type when stored for up to a week at 37 and 42 °C. Probiotic properties of the variant such as adherence to epithelial cells and antibacterial activity remained unaltered. This strain can potentially help address the issue of significant loss in viable cell counts of L. acidophilus which is typically encountered during probiotic manufacture and storage.
Keywords: Adaptation; Cross-tolerance; Heat stress; Lactobacillus acidophilus; Thermotolerant.