Much of the early and ongoing work on prebiotics has been carried out in Japan with work to find bifidobacteria promoting substances that promote the growth of these organisms in pure culture. In 1978, Yazawa et al. screened a range of dietary carbohydrates for their ability to promote greater growth of bifidobacteria over other common intestinal isolates. Further studies that were carried out used mixed culture in animal models and in human trials to determine the efficacy of oligosaccharides in modulating the gut flora composition. The term prebiotic was first coined in 1995 by Gibson and Roberfroid (Gibson and Fuller, 2000). The Greek meaning of the word probiotic is “for life” and one of its early formal definition was that of Parker who in 1974 defined it as “organisms and substances which contribute to intestinal microbial balance.” This definition was further refined in 1989 by Fuller to represent “a live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance” thereby emphasizing the need for viable microorganisms (Gibson and Fuller, 2000). Today this is the most widely used and accepted definition of the term. Increased interest in health and wellbeing have highlighted the need for greater understanding of the interaction of diet and gut microbial flora in humans and farm animals. Prebiotics consist primarily of carbohydrates while probiotics consist primarily of intestinal bacteria. This complex interaction (synobiotics) constitutes what is now referred to as the microbiome. The microbiome is assumed to play a significant role in preventing disease caused by pathogenic and opportunistic microorganisms as well as for providing of health improvement through greater uptake of vitamins and nutrients (Bermudez-Brito et al., 2012). A healthy microbiome is also hypothesized to contribute to mental wellbeing through the release of hormonal and chemical compounds that interact directly with the brain in humans as well as in farm animals (Gibson and Fuller, 2000; Markowiak and Slizewska, 2017). One of the ongoing primary challenges of doing research on the microbiome is developing models that consistently and accurately reflect the interaction of beneficial microbes with dietary supplements. This issue highlights the need for additional research to develop improved models that can describe the proper mode of action of supplements in a living animal system.


Bermudez-Brito, M., Plaza-Diaz, J., Munoz-Quezada, S, Gomez-Llorente, C. and A. Gil (2012). Probiotic Mechanisms of Action. Ann Nutr Metab 61:160-174.

Gibson, G.R. and R. Fuller (2000). Aspects of In Vitro and In Vivo Research Approaches Directed Toward Identifying Probiotics and Prebiotics for Human Use. Journal of Nutrition 130(2): 391S-395S.

Markiowiak, P. and K. Slizewska (2017). Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients 9: 1021 ;doi:10-3390/nu9091021