Since early 1990s functional foods have presented important attention and demand from scientist and general population. Among the different components of functional foods, prebiotics have demonstrated a wide range of beneficial properties such as favoring of probiotic bacteria growth and intestinal mineral absorption. The most used prebiotics are inulin-type fructans and galactooligosaccharides (GOS). Although the former are widely used in nutritional supplements and functional foods and drinks, GOS have started to emerge as important prebiotic compounds since they share most of the prebiotic characteristic of inulin-type fructans but can be synthesized from cheaper substrates like whey. GOS are produced by the transgalactosylating activity of β-galactosidases (β-gal) derived from microorganisms, mainly fungi. In this paper, the recent patents in β-gal and GOS production and their applications will be discussed. About 47 patents regarding β-gal and GOS production and applications have been published since 2000, which are lower than those observed for other prebiotic compounds, like inulin-type fructans. Patents include the production of GOS with native or recombinant enzymes, the production of β-gal resistant to low or high temperatures and the development of functional foods and cosmetics. β-gal and GOS production represent an important but partially explored field for the development of new prebiotic compounds and their applications.
Keywords: β-galactosidase, galactooligosaccharides, prebiotics, functional foods
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