Around the world, raw materials are converted into fermented food products through microbial and enzymatic activity. Products are typically produced using a process known as batch culture, where small volumes of an old culture are used to initiate a fresh culture. Repeated over many years, and provided samples are not shared among producers, batch culture techniques allow for the natural evolution of independent microbial ecosystems. While these products form an important part of the diets of many people because of their nutritional, organoleptic and food safety properties, for many traditional African fermented products the microbial communities responsible for fermentation are largely unknown. Here we describe the microbial composition of three traditional fermented non-alcoholic beverages that are widely consumed across Zambia: the milk based product Mabisi and the cereal based products Munkoyo and Chibwantu. Using culture and non-culture based techniques, we found that six to eight lactic acid bacteria predominate in all products. We then used this data to investigate in more detail the factors affecting community structure. We found that products made from similar raw materials do not harbor microbial communities that are more similar to each other than those made from different raw materials. We also found that samples from the same product taken at the same location were as different from each other in terms of microbial community structure and composition, as those from geographically very distant locations. These results suggest that microbial community structure in these products is neither a simple consequence of the raw materials used, nor the particular suite of microbes available in the environment but that anthropogenic variables (e. g., competition among sellers or organoleptic preferences by different tribes) are important in shaping the microbial community structures.
- lactic-acid bacteria
- adaptive radiation