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Probiotics in Animal Nutrition

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Probiotics are live microbial feed sup-plements which beneficially affect the host by improving its intestinal micro-bial balance. This activity is also called support of the balance of the intestinal microflora (Fuller, 1992). Correspon-dingly, in feed regulation, probiotics are included in the group of feed additives for stabilising the intestinal microflora. They are also known as bioregulators, intestinal microflora stabilisers or direct-fed microbials (DFMs). In a narrower sense, the term probiotics is confined to products for stabilising the intestinal microflora which consist of one, or a few, well-defined strains of microorganisms (WHO, 1994). Mixed cultures for establishing the intestinal microflora are not usually regarded as probiotics.

The microorganisms used in human nutrition and medicine are also called probiotics although, in contrast to ani-mal nutrition, they may comprise both live and inactivated microorganisms.

Historically, bacteria have served man very well in agriculture and nutrition. Well-known examples are the produc-tion of silage, fermented cabbage (sau-erkraut) and sour milk products such as yoghurt, cottage cheese and kefir. Systematic research into probiotics for human use began at the start of the 20th century.

Eli Metchnikoff, a Russian biologist who worked around 1900 at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, studied the mystery of the high life expectancy of Cossacks in Bulgaria. He related their extraordinari-ly high life expectancy of 115 years and more to their very high consumption of fermented milk products. He named the microorganism relevant for the fermentation Bacillus bulgaricus, later classified as Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which was used against scours and gastrointestinal diseases in humans as early as the 1920s.

There was little interest in probiotics during the following decades until the 1960s and 1970s when they were rediscovered for human and animal nutrition. The first potent products for animal nutrition to fulfil the specific requirements for feed additives did not appear on the European market until the mid-1980s.

Today, modern animal nutrition has at its disposal a whole range of defined strains of probiotics belonging to the groups of lactic acid bacteria, Bacillus spores and yeasts.

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