1. Gum arabic is a water-soluble polysaccharide resistant to human gut enzymes and thus can be described as dietary fibre.
2. Using a most-probable-number technique, estimates were made of total anaerobes and of gum-arabic fermenters in the faeces of a volunteer during a contro1 period and during addition of 10 g gum arabic/d to the diet. Using an enrichment technique, the principal bacteria able to utilize gum arabic as the only carbohydrate source were isolated and characterized.
3. Faecal samples were analysed for undegraded gum arabic and, following acid-hydrolysis, for total sugars.
4. The proportion of the faecal flora able to degrade the gum arabic polymer rose from an initial level of 6.5% to more than 50% during gum-arabic ingestion, and subsequently returned to the control level after ingestion ceased. The principal gum-arabic fermenters were species of Bucteroides and Bifdobucterium.
5. Undegraded gum arabic was not detected in any faecal sample nor were there significant differences in the level of total sugars in acid-hydrolysed faeces between gum arabic and control periods.
6. The results presented indicate a direct and rapid change in faecal flora in response to a specific change in the diet of a human volunteer.