Probiotics and Health Claims

This month, Wiley will release Probiotics and Health Claims, a book that investigates the food, feed, and pharmaceutical applications and assessment procedures of probiotics around the world. We sat down with the book’s two editors, Wolfgang Kneifel and Seppo Salminen, to pick their brains about what, exactly, the term “probiotics” means, and how they predict probiotics will be used in the future.

  • What are probiotic microorganisms?
    The scientific definition has undergone some revision during the last decades. Briefly, probiotics are live microorganisms which exert certain beneficial properties to the host (human or animal) depending on their activity and cell density. The spectrum of effects seems to be increasing, and the mechanisms of action are not fully investigated so far, consequently opening up interesting perspectives for future research.
  • What are some of the most common ways probiotics are used in commercial products?
    In principle, there are three types of probiotic vehicles: food products (of which fermented dairy products can be regarded as the dominating segment), pharmaceutical preparations and dietary supplements (which come in different formats, ranging from capsules to tablets, drops and powders), and probiotic feeds.
  • How are probiotics developed?
    Usually, the development process of probiotics is a multidisciplinary one, where microbiologists, medical experts, nutritionists and technologists are cooperating. When formulating a defined product, these scientists start with an extensive screening of isolate candidates and then consider individual properties (e.g. identity and taxonomy, safety, stability, resistance, functional and technological criteria). Often, probiotics have been selected out of hundreds of possible candidates. They are assessed not only in laboratory tests and models, but also in dynamic models, followed by clinical trials under double-blind placebo-controlled conditions. Further in-depth information is contained in our book.
  • Are probiotics ever used for harm instead of health?
    Never. If so, they would not carry the name “probiotic”.
  • What do you think the future holds for companies and products which seek to make health claims?
    There is some evidence that both sides—i.e. the applicant (industry) as well as the assessing bodies—are undergoing a demanding period of progress and development. Very few probiotic claims worldwide have been officially endorsed. As discussion is still ongoing on this subject, it is difficult to foresee to what degree food product development, in general, will be affected health claim regulation in the future.
  • What is the most important piece of advice you can offer to non-scientists regarding probiotics?
    Advice of scientists to non-scientists needs to be simple and meaningful. In this context, scientists should be able to produce these sorts of statements, such as the following: “Probiotics can be regarded as the most prominent pacesetters bridging the two areas health and food like no other product. Probiotic foods are not to be seen necessarily as therapeutics, but they are a proper and attractive way of improving well-being, preventing discomfort, and reducing the risk of diseases.”
  • What inspired you to study Food Science?
    It was mainly the challenge of this topic’s inherent interdisciplinary nature.
  • In your lifetime, what would you consider to be the most significant scientific discovery in Food Science?
    Different milestones can be seen in the development of Food Sciences during the last 20-30 years, e.g. the invention of new processes guaranteeing maximum preservation of important nutrients and maintaining product quality and shelf-life. However, one particularly notable development is the advance of international networking for food safety issues. There is no doubt that food crises have shaken consumers as well as producers; however, the number of food crises has not increased. Rather, food crises have become more easily and readily recognizable due to global monitoring and control mechanisms, which causes them to appear to have become more numerous.

    Related work from these authors
    Handbook of Probiotics and Prebiotics, 2nd Edition
    by Yuan Kun Lee and Seppo Salminen

The Warming Papers

Last month, Wiley released The Warming Papers, a concise, comprehensive collection of scientific papers that make up the foundation of the global warming forecast. We sat down with Dr. David Archer, one of the book’s two editors (the other being Dr. Ray Pierrehumbert), to find out more about the planning processes behind this sort of collaboration, as well as his own thoughts on global warming.

  • Climate change science is notoriously complex, taking account of many factors. What strategy did you use to organize the content?

Generally there is a physical domain, concerning the energy balance of the Earth as it is affected by light and heat, and a chemical domain, concerning the carbon cycle and the possibility of human activity altering it.

  • How did you go about deciding which papers to include in this book?

We chose seminal papers, the first ones to explore big ideas, rather than, say, the most recent or most current paper on the topic. And we limited papers to those concerning global warming—a human impact on climate, in particular—rather than climate science more broadly.

  • You wrote The Long Thaw, about how humans have affected climate change. How would climate change have progressed differently without the interference of modern technology and industry?

It would be somewhat cooler today if not for human activity, and humans have the capacity to derail the glacial cycles, at least for a while (geologically speaking).

  • What advice would you give to a lay person confused by the conflicting claims of climate scientists on the one hand and climate skeptics/deniers on the other?

Follow the money.

  • What are your views on geoengineering?

Geoengineering could work as a temporary band-aid to cool things down for a few decades while we actively remove CO2 from the air. The U.S. will have to pay for a quarter of it, because that is how much of the mess we made. But since fossil fuel CO2 continues to warm the climate for hundreds of thousands of years after it is first released to the atmosphere, geoengineering is not a “fix” for global warming. It leaves the planet on life support, an unstable and unfair legacy for future generations.

  • If you could work in another field or discipline in science, what would you choose and why?

I love the natural stability that arises in Earth system processes. I could have gone in the direction of instrumentation and making measurements; it would be fun to remote-control fly an unmanned airplane in the Martian atmosphere, for example.

Check out another book by this author:
Global Warming: Understanding the Forecastby David Archer

Interview with R. Ian Freshney, Author and Cell Culture Expert

R. Ian Freshney, PhD, is an honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Oncology and Applied Pharmacology at the University of Glasgow. He is a world-renowned expert on cell culture technique and has authored and edited numerous successful books, including the hugely popular Culture of Animal Cells (now in its 6th Edition), and Culture of Human Stem Cells.

Here, he answers a few questions on his own techniques as an author and on the continuing role of books in modern scientific research.

  1. Culture of Animal Cells: A Manual of Basic Technique and Specialized Application, 6th Ed has been very well received by the scientific community, as have many of your other titles. What do you think sets your books apart and makes them so successful compared to other titles in the field?
    I would say there are three major components: (1) The books are designed as practical guides with detailed single-step instructions which should be sufficient without further recourse to the literature. (2) The preparation and sources of materials are explained in detail. (3) Most of the basic protocols are illustrated with easy-to-follow diagrams.
  2. What challenges did you face while putting together Culture of Animal Cells: A Manual of Basic Technique and Specialized Applications, 6th Edition?
    I struggled with the need to update but at the same time preserve basic procedures which have not changed markedly from the previous edition. This, of course, led to the dilemma of deciding what to retain and what to leave out. I also thought long and hard about what specialized protocols to add without compromising the basic technique role of the book.
  3. What do you find rewarding about authoring and editing books in the sciences?
    It forces me to keep up-to-date with developments in cell culture, and in turn helps me to be a better teacher of cell culture. I also get satisfaction from converting what are sometimes complex instructions into one simple straightforward procedure.
  4. What inspired you to write your first book?
    I was invited to prepare a textbook on cell culture for a college course. Previously, I had used John Paul’s book, Cell and Tissue Culture, and knew it needed to be updated.
  5. What advice would you offer to scientists writing or editing their first book?
    • Determine the precise niche that you wish to fill.
    • Plan the structure carefully beforehand but do not be afraid to deviate, within reason, to meet new demands.
    • Ensure the text is well illustrated with tables and diagrams.
    • Make sure the book is properly cross-referenced.
    • Prepare the index yourself. Even if it is to be professionally indexed you will find terms that the indexer does not.
  6. How would you compare the experiences of writing a book and writing a journal article?
    Both require a clear concise style, but the author has more freedom to express ideas and opinions when writing a book. Another major difference is that a scientific paper must address a specific topic and provide proof to substantiate the conclusions that are drawn, while a book draws on the author’s and other scientists’ experience to provide a more general review and specific guidelines or instructions.
  7. Do you find that the role of books in the scientific research community has changed over the years? Are they valued more or less today than they were 10-20 years ago?
    Rapid changes in technology mean that some books will become outdated without regular updates, which are not always feasible in printed copy. Yet, while there is an increasing tendency to provide instructions and protocols online, many people will still find reassurance from using a textbook with an established reputation.
  8. How do you envision the evolution of science writing over the next 5-10 years?
    Certain journals will still tend to be regarded as more reliable than others, as indicated by their citation indices. However, the number of free public access journals will probably increase, presumably with payment to submit articles. There will be a continuing need for editorial control of journal content due to the proliferation of unedited, non-reviewed material appearing online.
  9. What do you feel has been the most significant scientific discovery that has been made during your lifetime?
    I can really only speak for biology where the elaboration of the genetic code is probably the most significant development. The ability to regulate gene expression and the resultant plasticity of the cell phenotype will create major opportunities in cell culture and its relevance to tissue in vivo.
  10. What are you reading right now?
    This questionnaire! Otherwise, mostly novels and current journals for which I have alerts.