This work aimed to investigate the ability of two human-derived bifidobacterial strains, i.e. Bifidobacterium breve UCC2003 and Bifidobacterium longum NCIMB 8809, to utilize various oligosaccharides (i.e., 4-galactosyl-kojibiose, lactulosucrose, lactosyl-oligofructosides, raffinosyl-oligofructosides and lactulose-derived galacto-oligosaccharides) synthesized by means of microbial glycoside hydrolases. With the exception of raffinosyl-oligofructosides, these biosynthetic oligosaccharides were shown to support growth acting as a sole carbon and energy source of at least one of the two studied strains. Production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) as detected by HPLC analysis corroborated the suitability of most of the studied novel oligosaccharides as fermentable growth substrates for the two bifidobacterial strains, showing that acetic acid is the main metabolic end product followed by lactic and formic acids. Transcriptomic and functional genomic approaches carried out for B. breve UCC2003 allowed the identification of key genes encoding glycoside hydrolases and carbohydrate transport systems involved in the metabolism of 4-galactosyl-kojibiose and lactulosucrose. In particular, the role of β-galactosidases in the hydrolysis of these particular trisaccharides was demonstrated, highlighting their importance in oligosaccharide metabolism by human bifidobacterial strains.
Keywords: Enzymatic synthesis; Prebiotic; Pure cultures; Short-chain fatty acid (SCFA); Structure–function relationship.
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