Butyrate-producing human gut microbiota members are recognized for their strong association with a healthy immune‐homeostasis and protection from inflammatory disorders and colorectal cancer. These effects are attributed to butyrate, the terminal electron sink of glycan fermentation by prevalent and abundant colonic Firmicutes from the Lachnospiraceae and Oscillospiraceae families. Remarkably, our insight into the glycan utilization mechanisms and preferences of butyrogenic Firmicutes remains very limited as compared with other gut symbionts, especially from the Bacteroides, Bifidobacterium, and Lactobacillus genera. Here, we summarize recent findings on the strategies that colonic butyrate producers have evolved to harvest energy from major dietary fibres, especially plant structural and storage glycans, such as resistant starch, xylans, and mannans. Besides dietary fibre, we also present the unexpected discovery of a conserved protein apparatus that confers the growth of butyrate producers on human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which are unique to mother’s milk. The dual dietary fibre/HMO utilization machinery attests the adaptation of this group to both the infant and adult guts. These finding are discussed in relation to the early colonization of butyrogenic bacteria and the maturation of the microbiota during the transition from mother’s milk to solid food. To date, the described butyrogenic Firmicutes are glycan utilization specialists that target only a few glycans in a highly competitive manner relying on co‐regulated glycan utilization loci. We describe the common pillars of this machinery, highlighting butyrate producers as a source for discovery of biochemically and structurally novel carbohydrate active enzymes.

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