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What is a saccharolytic bacterium?

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A saccharolytic bacterium is a microbe having the ability to generate energy by metabolizing carbohydrates. Saccharolytic bacteria include both heterotrophic and autotrophic organisms and transform sugars under aerobic and anaerobic conditions.

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Saccharolytic bacteria are important in many applications, including ecology, energy production, human health and agriculture.

In ecology, the creation of methane in rice paddies is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases. Communities of saccharolytic bacteria, including Verrucomicrobia, generate methane as a byproduct of the anaerobic decay of plant materials.

Finding alternative energy sources is a primary focus of the U.S. Department of Energy. The DOE supports the genome sequencing of saccharolytic bacteria as a way to identify the organisms and enzymes that produce abundant ethanol. Examples of ethanol-producing bacteria are Byssovorax cruenta, Eubacterium cellulosolvens and Cellvibrio mixtus.

Saccharolytic bacteria have discernible impacts on human health. The process of fermentation by saccharolytic microbes is essential for gut health, as opposed to putrefaction that results in the release of toxic chemicals in the intestine. Saccharolytic bacteria also affect dental health, breaking down enamel and causing infections that are a precursor to oral cancer.

The same issues affecting human digestion are critical in the agricultural industry. The use of saccharolytic bacteria is replacing the use of antibiotics to control intestinal health in livestock, preventing antibiotics from affecting the humans consuming affected meat.

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