Bacteria that changed the world: Lactobacillus acidophilus

In our Bacterial World exhibition we offer a selection of ten bacteria that have changed the world, some in profound ways. In this series of short fact-file posts we present one of the ten each week. This week’s bacteria are…

Lactobacillus acidophilus
– the gut-guzzlers

Where they live
Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the hundreds of species of bacteria that live in your gut. This particular species is found all through the gut from your mouth to your anus.

Why they are important
In your gut, this species digests lactose in milk, splitting it into the simpler sugars glucose and galactose. People suffering from diseases such as HIV and cancer tend to have abnormal levels of Lactobacillus in their gut – either too many bacteria, or too few.

How they are named
Lacto is Latin for milk and bacillus refers to the rod shape of these bacteria. Acidophilus means ‘acid-loving’ in Latin – this species makes sure that its home remains slightly acidic by releasing its own acid, which helps to keep other bacteria at bay.

How they work
Not only does Lactobacillus acidophilus produce sugar from milk, but it may also produce tryptophan – an essential nutrient that we cannot produce ourselves.

Top image: Coloured transmission electron micrograph of the Gram-positive rod-shaped bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus. Copyright: Science Photo Library

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