Scientists from the Netherlands-based research organisation TNO say they have used DNA's unique structure to identify the more than 400 types of bacteria that make up our intestinal flora.
Traditional research methods were able to study only 5 per cent of all the bacteria, says TNO, and with no method for researching the rest, studies of the effects of diet, stress, medicines and the like on the intestinal flora were of limited value.
Products that claim to have a beneficial effect on the intestinal flora, such as prebiotics and probiotics, are becoming a major category in the food sector. Probiotics are set to more than triple in value in Europe to reach $137.9 million (€118.5m) by 2010, according to a recent Frost & Sullivan report.
But their success depends to a great extent on their health benefits and while a great deal of research has been performed on probiotics, it has often proved difficult to reach any definite conclusions about their effects.
TNO is now on the way to putting the bacteria on an ingenious chip, which will enable them to study the effects of diet on our intestinal flora.
This could help companies to provide better evidence of the benefits, giving them greater chances of making health claims.