The inherent and diverse capacity of dietary fibres, nondigestible oligosaccharides (NDOs) and prebiotics to modify the gut microbiota and markedly influence health status of the host has attracted rising interest. Research and collective initiatives to determine the composition and diversity of the human gut microbiota have increased over the past decade due to great advances in high-throughput technologies, particularly the 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) sequencing. Here we reviewed the application of 16S rRNA-based molecular technologies, both community wide (sequencing and phylogenetic microarrays) and targeted methodologies (quantitative PCR, fluorescent in situ hybridisation) to study the effect of chicory inulin-type fructans, NDOs and specific added fibres, such as resistant starches, on the human intestinal microbiota. Overall, such technologies facilitated the monitoring of microbiota shifts due to prebiotic/fibre consumption, though there are limited community-wide sequencing studies so far. Molecular studies confirmed the selective bifidogenic effect of fructans and galactooligosaccharides (GOS) in human intervention studies. Fructans only occasionally decreased relative abundance of Bacteroidetes or stimulated other groups. The sequencing studies for various resistant starches, polydextrose and beta-glucan showed broader effects with more and different types of gut microbial species being enhanced, often including phylotypes of Ruminococcaceae. There was substantial variation in terms of magnitude of response and in individual responses to a specific fibre or NDO which may be due to numerous factors, such as initial presence and relative abundance of a microbial type, diet, genetics of the host, and intervention parameters, such as intervention duration and fibre dose. The field will clearly benefit from a more systematic approach that will support defining the impact of prebiotics and fibres on the gut microbiome, identify biomarkers that link gut microbes to health, and address the personalised response of an individual's microbiota to prebiotics and dietary fibres.
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