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The overall research theme of the Probiogenomics laboratory can be described as omics (genomics bioinformatics and functional genomics) of probiotic bacteria.
Probiotics are deliberately ingested preparations of live bacterial cells that confer health benefits on the host. Many of these probiotic species, e.g. Bifidobacterium, are associated with functional or probiotic foods. Despite their increasing commercial use, the molecular details of the impact of various probiotic preparations on the resident members of the gut microbiota as well as on the host are generally lacking. Thus, for most of the so far commercialized probiotic ingredients of functional foods there is very little scientific data to support their positive effect on human health.
Recently, we have entered into a new era of research for probiotic bacteria, characterized by a complete genetic characterization of probiotic bacteria. The genomics applied to probiotic bacteria which is called probiogenomics (Ventura et al., 2009, Nature Microbiol. Rev.) have provided access to the complete genetic make-up of probiotic bacteria.
Such novel discipline provides invaluable information about:
interaction with the host;
genetic adaptation to survive and colonize the human intestine;
Moreover, it provides the complete genetic fingerprint of a microorganism allowing a univocally identification of it at taxonomic level as well as the possibility to trace its presence and genetic stability in complex ecosystems and commercial products. Thus, probiogenomics represents an invaluable step in the development process of a new generation of probiotic bacteria (bacteria whose health promoting activities are supported by genetic evidence).
Another crucial step in the development of this novel generation of health promoting bacteria is represented by the experimental validation of the genome-based predicted features by the use of functional probiogenomic technologies. Such analyses are directed to explore the functionality of probiotic genomes by in vivo investigations (e.g., during the colonization of intestine).
Functional probiogenomic experiments will highlight the arsenal of genes whose expression will be affected during the colonization of the intestine operated by the probiotic microorganism, which represents an indispensable body of information in order to provide the genetic support for health promoting benefits exerted by the selected probiotic bacterium.
The research activities of the Probiogenomics lab entail the following areas:
Genomics of high G+C Gram positive bacteria and lactic acid bacteria.
Genomics of probiotic bacteria (probiogenomics).
Bioinformatics applied to probiotics.
Metagenomics of the human intestinal microbiota.
Genetics of stress response in bacteria.
Molecular biology of bacteriophage infecting lactic acid bacteria.
Bacterial phylogeny, particularly focusing on high G+C Gram positive bacteria.
Probiotic functionality of commensal bacteria.
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