Faecal microbial changes associated with ageing include reduced bifidobacteria numbers. These changes coincide with an increased risk of disease development. Prebiotics have been observed to increase bifidobacteria numbers within humans. The present study aimed to determine if prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) could benefit a population of men and women of 50 years and above, through modulation of faecal microbiota, fermentation characteristics and faecal water genotoxicity. A total of thirty-seven volunteers completed this randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial. The treatments – juice containing 4 g GOS and placebo – were consumed twice daily for 3 weeks, preceded by 3-week washout periods. To study the effect of GOS on different large bowel regions, three-stage continuous culture systems were conducted in parallel using faecal inocula from three volunteers. Faecal samples were microbially enumerated by quantitative PCR. In vivo, following GOS intervention, bifidobacteria were significantly more compared to post-placebo (P = 0·02). Accordingly, GOS supplementation had a bifidogenic effect in all in vitro system vessels. Furthermore, in vessel 1 (similar to the proximal colon), GOS fermentation led to more lactobacilli and increased butyrate. No changes in faecal water genotoxicity were observed. To conclude, GOS supplementation significantly increased bifidobacteria numbers in vivo and in vitro. Increased butyrate production and elevated bifidobacteria numbers may constitute beneficial modulation of the gut microbiota in a maturing population.