Published on 29 Mar 2022

Delivering 'good' bacteria into our guts– Associate Professor Joachim Loo

We are delighted to share the research achievement of Associate Professor Joachim Loo Say Chye and team, which has been featured in various media.

Prof Joachim Loo and team have developed probiotics with a unique edible coating that ensures the beneficial bacteria successfully reach the intestine once they are ingested.

Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organisation as live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host1. They have been shown to help prevent infections of the urinary and digestive tracts, and to maintain a healthy gut flora, which is linked to reducing the risk of obesity and promoting overall well-being2. However, many studies show that the bulk of probiotics delivered in commercial supplements and yogurts die off within the first 30 minutes of exposure to the acidic environment of the stomach3.

In the NTU-study, the probiotics, gut-friendly Lacticaseibacillus bacteria, are spray-coated with alginate, a carbohydrate derived from brown algae, protecting them from the harsh acidic conditions in the stomach. Through experiments simulating a journey along the human digestive tract, only the probiotics with the NTU-developed coating survived. The bacteria are released only when they reach the small intestine, as the coating breaks down by reacting with phosphate ions, which are present in higher amounts in the small intestine (see video).

Prof Loo who led the study, said: "In recent years, scientific studies have shown that the health of an individual is much more dependent on the help of ‘good bugs’ in our gut than we previously thought. However, probiotics are delicate microorganisms and cannot survive the harsh environment of our stomach. To increase the efficacy of probiotics as a dietary supplement, we sought to "parcel-wrap" and deliver them to specific sites of the intestine where they function best. This moisture-stable packaging, through materials engineering, makes for a more effective probiotic delivery and extends the shelf-life of the supplements."

From left to right: Tan Li Ling and Assoc Prof Joachim Loo developed the edible coating for probiotic bacteria. Source: NTU

The breakthrough research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Carbohydrate Polymers, with the title “In situ alginate crosslinking during spray-drying of lactobacilli probiotics promotes gastrointestinal-targeted delivery”. The research article can be found via this link:  

Our heartiest congratulations to Prof Loo and team on the excellent achievement!

Media Coverages:
The Straits Times online, 25 Mar
Lianhe Zaobao, page 10, and online