Bacillus licheniformis: Is It a Safe Probiotic?

Bacillus licheniformis, also known as B. licheniformis, is a spore bacteria, much like other Bacillus species. If you haven't read the page on Bacillus yet, you may want to do that first. It is a facultative anaerobe, having both anaerobic respiration and fermentation capabilities. It has both probiotic and industrial applications, but is it an opportunistic pathogen?

This species is similar to Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus pumilis. It is used extensively in animal products and in the manufacture of the well-known antibiotic bacitracin which is active mainly against Gram-positive bacteria. Some strains produce antimicrobials that are effective in vitro against various Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, as well as fungi found on animal feed and Candida. The antimicrobials and antifungals produced are strain-specific.

B. licheniformis is used extensively as genetically-manipulated microbes in industrial applications for substances such as enzymes used in products like sewage tank and drain cleaners. It can grow in a wide range of temperatures, including that of the human body, and is a known contaminant of food and pharmaceutical tablets.

B. licheniformis is also used in the supplement industry to make MenaQ7, a patented form of vitamin K2.

What Are the Potential Hazards of
Bacillus licheniformis

  • B. licheniformis is recognized as a human pathogen causing infections, mainly in immunocompromised patients or those who experienced trauma. However, in 2012, it caused serious infections in an otherwise healthy, 41-year-old Bulgarian woman who experienced repeated blood infections and arthritic symptoms after food poisoning. She was hospitalized 3 times and each time B. licheniformis was determined to be the culprit of her ill health. She experienced 3 cycles of alternating flare-ups and subsiding of fevers, nocturnal sweating, dry spastic cough, tachycardia (abnormally rapid heartbeat), and allergic swelling of the eyelids, even after being treated with courses of antibiotic in-between the flare-ups. Over those 3 cycles, the B. licheniformis became resistant to multiple antibiotics. It was suspected that since the spore bacteria were not found in the blood of this patient between disease recurrences, the spores could have remained in the intestine, re-germinated and caused recurrent sepsis (serious, widespread inflammation which can be life-threatening).
  • Bacillus licheniformis was found to be the only isolate in 3 cases of bovine abortion. It was found in the fetal stomach contents showing it was able to enter the bloodstream of the adult and cross the placenta to a bovine fetus.
  • I realize that the strains causing these problems were wild strains, not strains studied to be probiotics. The point of the above information is not to say that all B. licheniformis are opportunistic or pathogenic, but to emphasize that knowledge of the strain you are taking is very important.
  • The compound lichenysin produced by most strains in this species is toxic to cells above a certain threshold. A study on 53 different strains from a variety of sources showed that the quantities of lichenysin produced varied considerably between strains. This also shows that strain identification is extremely important!

What is the Probiotic Potential of
Bacillus licheniformis?

Since probiotic actions of B. licheniformis are definitely strain-specific, no generalizations can be made. Research on a strain-by-strain basis is imperative. I will be publishing more information on specifics soon.

Where Can You Find Bacillus licheniformis?

This species is found in a few products including:

If you would like assistance in determining if B. licheniformis or other probiotics are right for you, consider nutritional consultations.

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