Pioneers of probiotics
# Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek (1632 –1723). Considered as the father of Microbiology, this Dutch tradesman is well-known for his work on the improvement of the microscope. Using his handcrafted microscopes (of which he kept the manufacturing secret to himself!), he was the first one to observe and describe single celled organisms, which he originally referred to as animalcules. His observations of single-cell organisms were first met with skepticism, and the existence of thousands of these living organisms in a single drop of water challenged the ‘spontaneous generation‘ theory of his times. Van Leeuwenhoek was the first to observe and describe bacteria (1676), yeast cells and red blood cells.
# Louis Pasteur (1822 –1895). Nearly two centuries after Van Leeuwenhoek’s observation of microorganisms, Pasteur, a French chemist, was the first one to describe their biological activity, supporting the germ theory of disease. Pasteur is well-known for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases. He created the first vaccine for rabies and anthrax and invented pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of microbiology, together with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch.
# Elie Metchnikoff (1845-1916). Although the term probiotic was not used yet, this Russian Nobel Prize winner is the first to have described the beneficial effects of bacteria, which, since Pasteur, where undeniably linked to diseases and catastrophes. Metchnikoff can be considered as the father of the probiotic concept.
Metchnikoff’s theories on human longevity, as described in his book called The prolongation of Life- Optimistic Studies (1910), were based on the postulate that human aging was mainly linked to the presence in our blood stream of toxic substances produced by the bacterial community residing in our large bowel. Metchnikoff’s initial corrective measure for preventing this “bacterial decay” was to suggest removal of the large bowel! Fortunately, a less drastic suggestion was to try to lessen or replace the “putrefactive bacteria” in the intestine. Based on the observation that bacteria producing lactic acid prevented milk from putrefying, it was believed that these bacteria might have a similar effect on the digestive tract. A theory corroborated by Metchnikoff’s observation of the exceptional longevity and good health of certain Eastern European populations who consumed fermented dairy products on a daily basis.
Metchnikoff thus attributed health benefits to lactic-acid producing bacteria, suggesting that “oral administration of cultures of fermentative bacteria would implant the beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract.”
Metchnikoff himself consumed daily sour milk fermented with the bacteria he called “Bulgarian Bacillus” (later described as Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus) and physicians began prescribing the sour milk diet for their patients. Probiotics were born.
The term Probiotic itself was introduced by Lilley and Stillwell in 1965 to describe substances secreted by one microorganism which stimulates the growth of another: the opposite of an antibiotic. But it was not before 1974 that the term probiotic was actually used to describe a feed or food supplement by Parker, who defined it as “organisms and substances which contribute to intestinal microbial balance”.
# Roy Fuller, an expert in gut microecology, based in Reading, UK, has written several books about probiotics and the gut microflora, and we owe him the modern definition of the probiotic concept. In 1989, Fuller modified Parker’s definition to: “live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance”.
This new definition removed the word “substances” which could have included antibiotics. Moreover, Fuller’s definition emphasizes the requirement of viability for probiotics and introduces the aspect of a beneficial effect on the host.
# Jules Tournut (1919-1998). See the section dedicated to Pr. Tournut on the EPA site
# A tribute to Bruno Rochet (1954-2009). The Board members of the European Probiotic Association (EPA) wish to pay a tribute to the memory of Bruno Rochet, former Chairman of our Association since it was funded at his insistence in 1999. Passionate and visionary, Bruno Rochet was a convincing spokesman for probiotics in animal nutrition and he contributed greatly to their recognition.
In 1999, Lallemand and Lesaffre launched EPA, rapidly joined by Lohmann, BioArmor and other companies, and Bruno Rochet became Chairman of EPA since day one and remained one of its most active members, until his tragic death in November 2009. Bruno also initiated the Jules Tournut Award (more info on P.4), to stimulate probiotic research among young scientists.
As chairman of EPA, Bruno strove to create and maintain a link between all the members of the Association who were competitors in the field. He also focused on finding a common approach to develop the probiotic concept and to share it with the various stakeholders and the media through events, training sessions and publications.