The availability of complete bacterial genome sequences has significantly furthered our understanding of the genetics, physiology and biochemistry of the microorganisms in question, particularly those that have commercially important applications. Bifidobacteria are among such microorganisms, as they constitute mammalian commensals of biotechnological significance due to their perceived role in maintaining a balanced gastrointestinal (GIT) microflora. Bifidobacteria are therefore frequently used as health-promoting or probiotic components in functional food products. A fundamental understanding of the metabolic activities employed by these commensal bacteria, in particular their capability to utilize a wide range of complex oligosaccharides, can reveal ways to provide in vivo growth advantages relative to other competing gut bacteria or pathogens. Furthermore, an in depth analysis of adaptive responses to nutritional or environmental stresses may provide methodologies to retain viability and improve functionality during commercial preparation, storage and delivery of the probiotic organism. (c) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.