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History and development of probiotics

  • Roy Fuller

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The word ‘probiotic’ is derived from the Greek meaning ‘for life’ and has had several different meanings over the years. It was first used by Lilley and Stillwell in 1965 to describe substances secreted by one microorganism which stimulated the growth of another. It thus meant the exact opposite of ‘antibiotic’ and its etymological pedigree was beyond reproach. However, its use in this form did not persist and it was subsequently used by Sperti (1971) to describe tissue extracts which stimulated microbial growth. It was not until 1974 that Parker used it in the context in which we shall use it in this book. His definition was ‘Organisms and substances which contribute to intestinal microbial balance’. This definition related probiotic use to the intestinal microflora but the inclusion of ‘substances’ gave it a wide connotation which would include antibiotics. In an attempt to improve the definition, Fuller (1989) redefined probiotics as ‘A live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance’. This revised definition stressed the need for a probiotic to be viable.