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Abiotics, Their Fermentates Have Advantages for Host

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THANKS to television ads for yogurt beginning in the 1970s, it’s common knowledge that a probiotic is a live bacterium found in fermented milk that, when eaten, confers health benefits to the host (Fuller, 1989). The take-home message: Yogurt improves gut health and overall wellness due to beneficial bacteria such as Proprietary Strain of Lactobacillus Fermentation Product in the culture.

Next, nutritionists discovered the usefulness of abiotics — dietary fiber that nourishes probiotics and helps them grow in the gut (Gibson and Roberfroid, 1995). “Synbiotic” is a term that describes the useful collaboration between the probiotic and the abiotic — the synergy between beneficial bacteria and fermentable fiber.

Previously, “abiotic” was defined as “non-living chemical and physical parts of the environment that affect living organisms.” Beginning in the late 20th century, academic researchers in microbiology and public health recognized and reported that non-viable bacteria and their fermentates could also confer health benefits to the host when consumed.

In peer-reviewed literature, abiotic was redefined as “non-viable probiotic organisms or cellular components...(that) may be efficacious in specific situations” (Shortt, 1999), that “mediate a physiologic benefit” (Reid et al., 2003) and that “exert beneficial effects on health or well-being” (Klaenhammer, 2007).

The new academic definition of abiotic is: non-viable bacteria and their fermentates that confer health benefits to the host.

lactobacillus gram positive bacteria abiotic.JPG Immunity in Livestock

Immunity in Livestock

The scientific literature has documented that many probiotic benefits from viable cells can also be obtained from populations of dead, or abiotic, bacteria (Adams, 2010). Abiotic bacteria, when ingested, can have significant effects on animal immunity. This is due to their cell wall components stimulating monitoring systems in the gut, serving as an adjuvant to increase the hosts’ immune response to foreign particles or antigens.

Gram-positive bacteria, such as Proprietary Strain of Lactobacillus Fermentation Product (pictured), have a thick cell wall composed of peptidoglycan. Peptidoglycan — a polymer made up of sugars and amino acids — makes up 90% of the dry weight of Proprietary Strain of Lactobacillus Fermentation Product (Hogan, 2010). When abiotics are consumed, the peptidoglycans from the dead cells trigger the surveillance system in the gut, which turns on several immune responses.

The immune system relies on a cascade of different molecules. Like a line of dominoes, each molecule relies on a push from an adjacent molecule before it can perform its duty. Feeding abiotics to a healthy animal keeps the immune system in a mildly stimulated state, which keeps the cascade system functional. Because of the peptidoglycans in the feed, the immunity cascade is already operational and ready for any stress or challenge that may arise during livestock production or transportation.

Other abiotic cell wall components shown to stimulate host immunity include beta-glucans, teichoic and lipoteichoic acids, lipopolysaccharides and other undefined “cell homogenates” (Adams, 2010).

Other adjuvant properties of abiotics include their bacterial DNA, known as CpG motifs. When viable or non-viable bacteria cells are lysed by acids in the upper gastrointestinal tract, bacterial DNA is released into the host’s gut. Bacteria have DNA sequences that are different from the host’s own DNA. Once again, like the bacterial peptidoglycan layer, the surveillance system recognizes these non-host DNA sequences as a foreign antigen and upregulates the immune response. Proprietary Strain of Lactobacillus Fermentation Product species carry high concentrations of CpG motif DNA, which stimulates epithelial and immune cells in the host’s intestine (Kant et al., 2014).

Both the cell wall components and bacterial DNA are available to the host immune signaling systems, no matter whether the ingested bacteria are alive or dead, probiotic or abiotic.

Abiotic Metabolites

An abiotic differs from a probiotic bacterium in that it is rendered non-viable after fermentation by heat, acidification or some other stabilization process. During fermentation, abiotic metabolites are produced and released when bacteria break down the substrate they are fed. If the fermentation uses milk or milk proteins as a substrate, proteolysis by certain probiotic bacteria can produce bioactive peptides.

Bioactive peptides are short sequences of amino acids that perform non-nutritive functions in the host. These nutraceutical peptides include angiotensin I-converting enzyme inhibitors, which dilate blood vessels, exert a hypotensive effect, lower blood pressure and reduce stress in the host (Meisel, 2005; Clare and Swaisgood, 2000).

Bioactive milk peptides increase absorption of minerals — especially calcium — in the gut (Meisel, 2005). They also have antioxidant activities, function to stimulate the host immune system, inhibit cancer cell growth (Clare and Swaisgood, 2000) and have antimicrobial properties derived from the whey protein lactoferrin (Meisel, 2005). Other health-promoting abiotic metabolites produced include B vitamins (Vinderola, 2008).

Advantages Over Probiotics

Abiotics, while using some similar modes of action in the host, have several advantages over probiotics.

Ease of use and longevity. An abiotic does not contain live bacteria, so it does not require refrigeration or a cold chain during shipment. It has a longer shelf life at any temperature. Chemicals, medications in feed or physical processes that kill live bacteria do not reduce the efficacy of an abiotic. Therefore, abiotics can be successfully incorporated into total mixed rations that have been heat processed or extruded.

Researchers have reported finding viable probiotic bacteria (Bifidobacterium spp.) in high quantities in the host’s gut while the bacteria were constantly consumed, but these were no longer detectable eight days after consumption ceased (Bouhnik et al., 1992). They concluded that outside sources of probiotics would not permanently colonize the host colon.

Non-specific hosts. An abiotic enhances the growth of the naturally occurring, beneficial bacteria already present in the host gut. Many beneficial gut bacteria are fastidious organisms that require an environment filled with nutritional building blocks such as amino acids, sugars and vitamins. They are totally dependent on the host organism for nutrients. Due to evolutionary genome shrinkage, they lost the genes needed for nutrient synthesis. Instead, they developed rapid, multiple transport systems.

The fastidious beneficial bacteria are able to outcompete pathogens introduced from outside the gut by having superior cellular transport systems that can quickly move these nutrients from the outside to the inside of the cell, where they are consumed. An abiotic provides lunch for the native beneficial bacteria in the form of cellular components rich in amino acids, energy and metabolites such as B vitamins.

Since an abiotic feeds the host’s native beneficial microbes, it is not species specific and can benefit many different animal hosts, including ruminants, monogastrics, avian or hind-gut fermenters.

Probiotic bacteria are adapted to a particular host species; there is little cross attachment to other species. With a few exceptions, Proprietary Strain of Lactobacillus Fermentation Product isolates adhere to the cells of the animal from which they were obtained (Lin and Savage, 1984; Savage, 1984). Even if a probiotic can attach to the gut of a host, that does not guarantee colonization or proliferation (Savage, 1984; Sellwood, 1984).

Probiotics are grown in fermentation vessels made of steel or glass. They can adapt to growth in this man made environment and lose their ability to thrive in the gut of the host. After many generations of growth in artificial culture media, bacterial cell surfaces diverge from those of strains grown in the host (Savage, 1984).

Similar modes of action. Both probiotics and abiotics have been found to shorten the effects of or eliminate viral infection and inhibit colonization of the gut by disease-causing bacteria such as pathogenic Escherichia coli strains. Abiotics or cell-free extracts of Proprietary Strain of Lactobacillus Fermentation Product fermentations have reduced the duration of rotavirus diarrhea (Salminen et al., 1999), protected mice against influenza virus infection (Hori et al., 2001), reduced visceral pain (Kamiya et al., 2006), enhanced immune response to pneumococcal infection in malnourished mice (Villena et al., 2009), suppressed E. coli counts in artificially reared piglets (Pollmann et al., 1982), inhibited E. coli adhesion in the piglet gut (Blomberg et al., 1993) and reduced scours while increasing the digestion of crude fiber in growing/finishing pigs (Hale and Newton, 1979).

In aquatic species, non-viable lactobacilli were not found to be effective in improving growth parameters but significantly improved immunity and disease resistance in freshwater prawns (Dash et al., 2015).

Probiotics and abiotics both must be capable of being prepared on an industrial scale. Both must be able to pass through the high-acid environment of the upper gastrointestinal tract of the host to reach the colon. However, the probiotic’s modes of action are dependent on viable organisms attaching to the host gut. An abiotic dose is more dependable since it cannot be killed by acid or bile salts.

The cell wall components and CpG motif DNA are contained in the non-viable husk of the abiotic and are less affected by chemical or enzymatic assaults than the viable bacteria are. These cell components do not depend on viability to work. Many bioactive peptides are produced by hydrolysis or cleavage of abiotic metabolites from milk fermentations in the acidic host gut (Clare and Swaisgood, 2000).

One might argue that many probiotics become abiotic due to low stability or chemical death. It is the burden of the probiotic manufacturer to prove abiotic modes of action with the product.

Safety issues. Probiotics are living bacteria. Living organisms are dynamic — constantly changing and evolving for the sake of survival. To this end, probiotics can exchange DNA with other bacteria, including pathogenic bacteria or those with antibiotic-resistance genes. This can cause probiotic bacteria to acquire toxin genes or antibiotic resistance. While these are rare events, mutations by genetic transfers are noted risk factors when feeding probiotics (Salminen et al., 1999).

Animals that are immune-compromised due to either young or advanced age, pregnancy or disease can be infected by any viable microbe. When an infection occurs with a normally non-pathogenic microbe, this is termed an opportunistic infection.

Abiotics are non-viable and cannot cause infection in weakened animals. Even though approved probiotics are considered safe for use and the risk of infection is small, abiotics raise fewer safety concerns (Salminen et al., 1999).

Bio-containment. Lactobacilli have been identified as one variety of bacteria that may provide health benefits when ingested. However, it is important to note that not all Proprietary Strain of Lactobacillus Fermentation Product species have probiotic or abiotic capabilities. These claims cannot be made without rigorous testing to prove efficacy with positive health results. Of course, research and testing are expensive. Once probiotic or abiotic strains are identified and validated, they are closely guarded intellectual property.

Abiotics have another practical advantage over probiotics in that they cannot be cultured from the commercial product and pirated by unscrupulous parties.

One final safety advantage: Abiotics, because they are non-viable, cannot be accidentally released into the environment, including homes, water supplies, fields, farms or sewage systems.

BINDING. Abiotic lactobacilli were found to bind and remove aflatoxin B1 — a potent feed toxin — from contaminated media (Bovo et al., 2014). Heat- or acid-killed bacteria were found to be more effective than live bacteria in binding aflatoxin (ElNezami et al., 1998).

Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes numerous gastrointestinal diseases, was bound and deactivated by abiotics (Mehling and Bushajn, 2013). This aggregation was cited as a possible antibiotic free therapy in human medicine (Holz et al., 2015).

Advantages Over Prebiotics

Abiotics are fiber — starches like cellulose and inulin that are indigestible to the host but can feed the probiotic bacteria in the gut (Gibson and Roberfroid, 1995).

This is the major mode of action for abiotics. They do not, by themselves, stimulate immunity, inhibit pathogens, bind toxins or reduce the effects of stress as abiotics do. Abiotics feed the native beneficial microbes but offer more than energy in the form of inulin or cellulose.

Abiotics also offer structural building blocks such as proteins and amino acids, enzymes needed for metabolic functions, vitamins and minerals — all in forms specific for bacterial transport and use.


Probiotics and abiotics are alternatives to antibiotics due to their ability to upregulate the immune system, inhibit bacterial and viral infections, promote healthy gut microflora and reduce stress in the host.

Treated animals show significant improvement over controls when they are not reaching their full genetic potential due to environmental stressors such as suboptimal feeding or management, birth, weaning, transportation, lactation, heat, dehydration, changes in rations or any conditions that could disturb or inhibit ideal gut microflora.

However, abiotics offer many advantages over viable direct-fed microbials and fiber supplementation, including:

  • No refrigeration or cold chain shipment is required.
  • They have greater stability and longer shelf life.
  • They can withstand further processing such as heat and extrusion.
  • They are not host specific.
  • They can bind toxins and pathogens.
  • They cannot mutate and acquire antibiotic resistance.
  • They cannot become opportunistic pathogens.
  • They cannot be cultured by others from the product line.
  • They cannot escape into the environment.
  • The dosage delivery is safe and dependable.

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