|Yes, it is childish but...|
So, poo(p) samples were the starring material in the paper - "obtained from three non-autistic children and three autistic child donors"- and specifically what happened when something called B-GOS "a prebiotic galactooligosaccharide" was added to samples following their journey through a "Three stage continuous culture gut model system" otherwise known as an artificial gut. Said gut model based at Reading University has already been the topic of other news (see here).
As well as looking at the initial bacterial profile of those stool samples, researchers plotted the changes to the stool's inhabitants (or what was left of the stool) over the course of B-GOS addition, as well as looking at things like the "production of SCFAs [short-chain fatty acids] in the fermentations" and other metabolites via the gold-standard chemical analytical technique called 1H-NMR (see here for more details).
Results: "Consistent with previous studies, the microbiota of ASD [autism spectrum disorder] children contained a higher number of Clostridium spp. and a lower number of bifidobacteria compared to non-autistic children." With the addition of B-GOS to the 'mixture', researchers reported on a significant increase in bifidobacterial populations at the different stages of their gut model and in samples from both those with autism and those without autism. Such "bifidogenic properties of B-GOS" are not unheard of.
As to the metabolites of those bacteria present in the poo(p) samples, there were some interesting knock-on effects noted in both raw and B-GOS supplemented samples. "Our data show a lower concentration of butyrate and propionate in autistic models, compared to non-autistic models, but no
differences in acetate before adding B-GOS into the system." Propionic acid (propionate) has some research history with autism in mind (see here). Butyric acid (butyrate) is something of a rising star in quite a few domains, having also been mentioned in the context of autism too (see here). Indeed it's interesting to note that B-GOS administration "mediated significant production of... butyrate... simulating the transverse and distal colon respectively. There was no effect on propionate." The findings of lower starting levels of butyrate in samples from children with autism were also substantiated by the NMR analyses undertaken. Increases in butyrate and changes to various other metabolites ("increasing ethanol, lactate, acetate and butyrate and decreasing propionate and trimethylamine") were also noted via this analytical method for this group.
A long quote coming up: "This in vitro study showed promising and positive results in that supplementing the microbiota of ASD children with 65%B-GOS may manipulate the gut bacterial population and alter metabolic activity towards a configuration that might represent a health benefit to the host. However, further work will be required to assess such changes in an in vivo human intervention study."
Just before anyone makes a run on B-GOS or any similar product however, I do need to stress a few important points. First, this was a study of poo(p) samples from 3 autistic children compared with samples from 3 non-autistic children. Aside from the small participant numbers, we don't know anything about participants' various comorbidities (although we know they were "free of any metabolic and gastrointestinal diseases") and only limited information on their dietary habits and medication history. Second, poo(p) was the target material included for analysis and what happened when B-GOS was supplemented during the journey through the artificial gut model. This study said nothing about what happens when real people with autism take B-GOS orally for example, and how it might affect gut bacterial populations and metabolites as it progresses down a real gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This also includes a lack of information on any potential side-effects in a real-world situation. We are also assuming that any supplement survives the stomach. There is quite a bit more to do in this area.
But for now, I stick to the idea that the Grimaldi paper provides some potentially important information and certainly, some new routes/methods for further study of the link between prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics in the context of the gut microbiota and autism...
 Grimaldi R. et al. In vitro fermentation of B-GOS: Impact on faecal bacterial populations and metabolic activity in autistic and non-autistic children. FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2016 Nov 16. pii: fiw233.
Grimaldi R, Cela D, Swann JR, Vulevic J, Gibson GR, Tzortzis G, & Costabile A (2016). In vitro fermentation of B-GOS: Impact on faecal bacterial populations and metabolic activity in autistic and non-autistic children. FEMS microbiology ecology PMID: 27856622