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Probiotic Naming Shenanigans

Dear Friends,

Nomenclature, when it comes to bacteria, can be very confusing; partly because of the evolving technology for classifying organisms, which necessitates giving them new names corresponding to their new group identity, and partly because of the private sector corporate shenanigans, motivated by profit and name recognition.

Let’s take a look at the use of the word bacillus: The word bacillus can be confusing because it can refer to the Genus Bacilli of a particular bacterium or to the Class Bacilli of a particular group of bacterium in the Phylogenetic Tree. Notice that the Genus Bacilli are always italicized, while the class is not. As we discussed in earlier emails, the Phylogenetic Tree of Life (based on 16S rRNA sequences) is divided into three Domains of life: Eukaryota, Archeae and Bacteria. From the Eukaryota branch of life all plants and animals have descended, including fungi, whereas, from the Archeas branch we get a microbial world that live in extreme environments such as in volcanoes and the Arctic, and from the Bacterial branch evolved bacteria, such as probiotic. According to the most current taxonomy, bacteria are then divided into twenty-four different Phyla— Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria, Spirochaetes, etc.

>From Phyla, bacteria are then divided into Classes by classification according to shape. Most bacteria come in one of three basic shapes: Cocci (i.e.  Streptococcus thermophilus), Bacilli (i.e. Lactobacillus acidophilus), and Spirochaetes (i.e. Borrelia burgdorferi). The Cocci are spherical or oval shaped bacteria, the Bacilli are rod shaped organisms, and the Spirochaetes are spiral shaped organisms.

As we continue to subdivide and go from Class to Order to Genus to Species to Subspecies or Strains, it can get quite confusing. In the world of probiotic supplementation, bacteria from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium Genuses are the most commonly used organisms. Bacteria from the Genus Bacillus are also used, though less frequently.

All of the bacteria within the Bacillus Genus are spore-forming organisms, whereas the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium Genus organisms are not. The Class Bacilli contains both the Genus Bacilli and the Genus Lactobacillus because they are all rod shaped organisms. To say all Bacilli are spore-forming organisms depends on whether you are talking about the Class or the Genus— confusing a little?

A good example of the nomenclature confusion concerns the organism Lactobacillus sporogenes. This name can be traced to a paper published in 1932 (Horowitz-Wlassowa and Nowotelnow1932). However, since the bacterium described in the paper was a spore-forming bacterium, it could not be considered a species within the genus Lactobacillus. It has been correctly reclassified as Bacillus coagulans, clearly denoting the bacteria as a soil organism. Unfortunately, it does not stop some companies, even today, from using the old name Lactobacillus sporogenes for the Bacillus coagulans soil organism, adding to the confusion and perhaps desiring to capitalize on the much wider scientific coverage for probiotic effectiveness attributed to the Genus Lactobacillus.

There are other examples of nomenclature scientific violations regarding the Baccilli Genus. A recent analysis of several studies demonstrated that out of 7 probiotic products, none were labeled with the correct taxonomic description for the spore-forming soil bacteria contained as an active ingredient.

Product On label Identified as Reference
Enterogenrmina (Italy) B. subtilis B. clausii Green and others 1999
Lactipan plus (Italy) L. sporogenes B. subtilis Hoa and others 2000
Domuvar (Italy) B. subtilis B. clausii Hoa and others 2000
Bactisubtil (France) B. subtilis B.cereus Hoa and others 2000
Subtyl (Vietnam) B. subtilis a new species Hoa and others 2000
Biosubtil Dalat (Vietnam) B subtilis B. cereus Hoa and others 2000
Biosbtil Nha Trang B. subtilis B. pumilus Green and others 2000

Many companies are marketing the beneficial use of Bacillus and other spore-forming bacteria in concentrated dosages, yet there is not enough research to support safety or efficacy. Companies utilize the temperature resistance of the spores in order to make shelf-stable claims. The research on the soil organism of the Genus Bacillus as a human probiotic is spotty. Although probiotic research with Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria has progressed quite steadily, we are still encountering several nomenclature issues, with the most egregious being the private corporate naming and attempts to patent living organisms.

Under the guise of corporate trade secrets, strains are named not with the universal, scientifically recognized nomenclature, but named with corporate trade names unique to that corporation. What this means is that the corporation alone knows the organism’s true identity. For example, Lactobacillus GG is a popular organism. In fact you have probably heard of it. But exactly what species of bacterium is GG? Do you know?

It turns out that LGG is a strain of L. rhamnosus isolated in 1983 from the intestinal tract of a healthy human being; filed for patent on 17 April 1985, by Sherwood Gorbach and Barry Goldin. The GG derives from the first letters of their surnames. The GG strain has been identified as ATCC 53103 by ATCC (the American Type Culture Collection), which is the largest repository for bacteria in the world, and is the scientific gold standard for taxonomy along with other key repositories around the world— the European culture collections (DSWMZ, LMG, CIP and NCIMB) or Japanese collection (IAM). With the correct nomenclature given to organisms, scientists from around the world can more efficiently and accurately progress in their research as everyone knows exactly what they are working with and can easily share the information.

The reality is that effective probiotic organisms go under many aliases. As an example of how private corporate gain name recognition and forsake scientific protocol, lets take our Original Synbiotic Formula which is composed of five lactic acid organisms, one of which is Lactobacillus acidophilus ATCC 4356. XYZ Company has given our Original Synbiotic Formula to a few patients with irritable bowel syndrome with good results. XYZ Company then collects one of the patient’s stool samples, cultures the organisms and identifies an acidophilus strain that comes from the Original Synbiotic product. Legally, they can now create a mother culture of this L. acidophilus, produce it in large volumes and sell it as their own special xyz strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus; giving it their own corporate name as a part of the identification of the strain; inferring that they are the only one who has this “particular” probiotic strain. This behavior is not only counterproductive to the process of discovery and progress in medicine but is down right unscientific, yet that is the reality and facts of the probiotic world as we know it. Read further on BioImmersion Taxonomy Campaign

The Human Genome Project (HGP) set a marvelous example for how much can be accomplished quickly when we share our knowledge and not hide it. The NIH Human Genome team was able to complete the total human genome sequencing decades before scientists thought possible because HGP made the genomic sequencing an open process. As sequences (segments) were determined, they were shared openly over the Internet enabling scientists worldwide to learn and add their sequencing discoveries. The result— all 3 billion base pairs of the human genome were mapped by 2003.

Now, part of the Human Genome Project team has morphed into the Human Microbiome Project, and with the same m.o. are focused on the typing of the human microbiome. Is it not time for the probiotic corporate world to put aside their perceived need for secrecy as the vehicle for successful marketing? It is time for clear open nomenclature for the sake of medicine and progress. Look at the bottle of probiotic you are using: What is the strain designation and name of the organism? Ask for the scientific universal identification of the probiotic organism you use in your practice. Can living creatures belong to corporations? Of course not. Lets be a part of the solution and progress in the probiotic world.

Sincerely yours,

Seann Bardell

Clinical Note: The Triple Berry Probiotic Formula is a combination of two lactic acid organism plus three berries. The organism are ATCC identified and classified as Lactobacillus acidophilus ATCC 4356 and Bifidobacterium longum ATCC 15707. Triple Berry combines the strength of extensive research on berries and probiotic for brain and gut protection, prevention of cancer with high ORAC value, and anti-inflammatory properties. The Triple Berry can be utilized as a foundational probiotic product as well as the needed Blueberry daily dosage for defogging the brain and sharpening the mind. The Raspberry has broad-spectrum antimicrobial benefit, while the Cherry helps with inflammation and pain. Great foundational product for children and adults.


The Last Quiz Answer: This is a human baby from Indonesia.

We’ve long known that a child exposed to lead in the womb or in his or her first six years is susceptible to permanent brain damage, and more recent research has shown that this damage extends to the heart and cardiovascular system as well. Read more at The Daily Green: Click Here

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