Development of omics-based protocols for the microbiological characterization of multi-strain formulations marketed as probiotics: the case of VSL#3

Mora, Diego; Filardi, Rossella; Arioli, Stefania; Boeren, Sjef; Aalvink, Steven; Vos, Willem M. de


The growing commercial interest in multi-strain formulations marketed as probiotics has not been accompanied by an equal increase in the evaluation of quality levels of these biotechnological products. The multi-strain product VSL#3 was used as a model to setup a microbiological characterization that could be extended to other formulations with high complexity. Shotgun metagenomics by deep Illumina sequencing was applied to DNA isolated from the commercial VSL#3 product to confirm strains identity safety and composition. Single-cell analysis was used to evaluate the cell viability, and β-galactosidase and urease activity have been used as marker to monitor the reproducibility of the production process. Similarly, these lots were characterized in detail by a metaproteomics approach for which a robust protein extraction protocol was combined with advanced mass spectrometry. The results identified over 1600 protein groups belonging to all strains present in the VSL#3 formulation. Of interest, only 3.2 % proteins showed significant differences mainly related to small variations in strain abundance. The protocols developed in this study addressed several quality criteria that are relevant for marketed multi-strain products and these represent the first efforts to define the quality of complex probiotic formulations such as VSL#3.