Bacterial viability in faecal transplants: Which bacteria survive?

Lito Electra Papanicolas, Jocelyn Mei Choo, Yanan Wang, Lex Ee Leong, Samuel Paul Costello, David Llewellyn Gordon, Steven Lodewijk Wesselingh, Geraint Berian Rogers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The therapeutic potential of faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) is under investigation for a range of inflammatory conditions. While mechanisms of benefit are poorly understood, most models rely on the viability of transplanted microbes. We hypothesised that protocols commonly used in the preparation of faecal transplants will substantially reduce the number, diversity and functional potential of viable microbes. Methods: Stools from eight screened donors were processed under strict anaerobic conditions, in ambient air, and freeze-thawed. Propidium monoazide (PMA) sample treatment was combined with quantitative PCR, 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing and short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) analysis to define the viable microbiota composition and functional potential. Findings: Approximately 50% of bacterial content of stool processed immediately under strict anaerobic conditions was non-viable. Homogenisation in ambient air or freeze-thaw reduced viability to 19% and 23% respectively. Processing of samples in ambient air resulted in up to 12-fold reductions in the abundance of important commensal taxa, including the highly butyrogenic species Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Subdoligranulum variable, and Eubacterium hallii. The adverse impact of atmospheric oxygen exposure on the capacity of the transplanted microbiota to support SCFA biosynthesis was demonstrated by significantly reduced butyrate and acetate production by faecal slurries processed in ambient air. In contrast, while reducing overall levels of viable bacteria, freeze-thaw did not significantly alter viable microbiota composition. Interpretation: The practice of preparing material for faecal transplantation in ambient air profoundly affects viable microbial content, disproportionately reducing the abundance of anaerobic commensals and the capacity for biosynthesis of important anti-inflammatory metabolites. Fund: This work was supported by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute. LP is supported by a scholarship from the Flinders Foundation. GR is supported by a Matthew Flinders Research Fellowship.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-516
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Bacterial viability
  • Fecal microbiota transplantation
  • Propidium monoazide
  • qPCR


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