Over the past decade, a variety of lactic acid bacteria have been commercially available to and steadily used by consumers. However, recent studies have shown that some lactic acid bacteria produce toxic substances and display properties of virulence. To establish safety guidelines for lactic acid bacteria, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested that lactic acid bacteria be characterized and proven safe for consumers’ health via multiple experiments (e.g., antibiotic resistance, metabolic activity, toxin production, hemolytic activity, infectivity in immune-compromised animal species, human side effects, and adverse-outcome analyses). Among the lactic acid bacteria, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species are probiotic strains that are most commonly commercially produced and actively studied. Bifidobacterium bifidum BGN4 and Bifidobacterium longum BORI have been used in global functional food markets (e.g., China, Germany, Jordan, Korea, Lithuania, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam) as nutraceutical ingredients for decades, without any adverse events. However, given that the safety of some newly screened probiotic species has recently been debated, it is crucial that the consumer safety of each commercially utilized strain be confirmed. Accordingly, this paper details a safety assessment of B. bifidum BGN4 and B. longum BORI via the assessment of ammonia production, hemolysis of blood cells, biogenic amine production, antimicrobial susceptibility pattern, antibiotic resistance gene transferability, PCR data on antibiotic resistance genes, mucin degradation, genome stability, and possession of virulence factors. These probiotic strains showed neither hemolytic activity nor mucin degradation activity, and they did not produce ammonia or biogenic amines (i.e., cadaverine, histamine or tyramine). B. bifidum BGN4 and B. longum BORI produced a small amount of putrescine, commonly found in living cells, at levels similar to or lower than that found in other foods (e.g., spinach, ketchup, green pea, sauerkraut, and sausage). B. bifidum BGN4 showed higher resistance to gentamicin than the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) cut-off. However, this paper shows the gentamicin resistance of B. bifidum BGN4 was not transferred via conjugation with L. acidophilus ATCC 4356, the latter of which is highly susceptible to gentamicin. The entire genomic sequence of B. bifidum BGN4 has been published in GenBank (accession no.: CP001361.1), documenting the lack of retention of plasmids capable of transferring an antibiotic-resistant gene. Moreover, there was little genetic mutation between the first and 25th generations of B. bifidum BGN4. Tetracycline-resistant genes are prevalent among B. longum strains; B. longum BORI has a tet(W) gene on its chromosome DNA and has also shown resistance to tetracycline. However, this research shows that its tetracycline resistance was not transferred via conjugation with L. fermentum AGBG1, the latter of which is highly sensitive to tetracycline. These findings support the continuous use of B. bifidum BGN4 and B. longum BORI as probiotics, both of which have been reported as safe by several clinical studies, and have been used in food supplements for many years.
Keywords: antibiotics resistance; functional foods; nutraceuticals; probiotics; safety.