Dietary fibre complexity and its influence on functional groups of the human gut microbiota

Petra Louis* (Corresponding Author), Michael Solvang, Sylvia Duncan, Alan Walker, Indrani Mukhopadhya

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the complex interactions between dietary fibre and the resident microbial community in the human gut. The microbiota influences both health maintenance and disease development. In the large intestine, the microbiota plays a crucial role in the degradation of dietary carbohydrates that remain undigested in the upper gut (non-digestible carbohydrates or fibre). Dietary fibre contains a variety of different types of carbohydrates, and its breakdown is facilitated by many different microbial enzymes. Some microbes, termed generalists, are able to degrade a range of different carbohydrates, whereas others are more specialised. Furthermore, the physicochemical characteristics of dietary fibre, such as whether it enters the gut in soluble or insoluble form, also likely influences which microbes can degrade it. A complex nutritional network therefore exists comprising primary degraders able to attack complex fibre and cross feeders that benefit from fibre breakdown intermediates or fermentation products. This leads predominately to the generation of the short-chain fatty acids acetate, propionate and butyrate, which exert various effects on host physiology, including the supply of energy, influencing glucose and lipid metabolism and anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory actions. In order to effectively modulate the gut microbiota through diet, there is a need to better understand the complex competitive and cooperative interactions between gut microbes in dietary fibre breakdown, as well as how gut environmental factors and the physicochemical state of fibre originating from different types of diets influence microbial metabolism and ecology in the gut
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386–397
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society
Issue number4
Early online date8 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2021
EventThe Nutrition Society Spring Conference 2021: Gut Microbiome and Health -
Duration: 28 Mar 202130 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Open Access via the Cambridge University Press Agreement


We would like to thank Professor Wendy Russell (University of Aberdeen) and Professor Stephen Fry (University of Edinburgh) for useful discussions and Ms Pat Bain (University of Aberdeen) for graphics support.

Financial Support

PL, SHD and AWW receive funding from the Scottish Government Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services (RESAS) division. MS is funded by a Rowett Institute RESAS studentship and a University of Aberdeen Elphinstone Scholarship. IM is funded by an Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Partnership grant in partnership with Enterobiotix Ltd and University of
Aberdeen (Partnership No. KTP 12019)


  • Dietary fibre
  • Gut Microbiota
  • anaerobic metabolism
  • Microbial Genetics


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