Precision engineering the microbiome: next generation food products

Food scientists are starting to design different strategies to precision engineer components of the microbiome to prevent, manage and treat many of today’s chronic lifestyle diseases

The human body is inhabited by hundreds of microorganism species, mainly bacteria in the gut, which are collectively known as the microbiome. Science is rapidly revealing the significance of the microbiome in human health, enabling the development of innovative food and beverage solutions designed to leverage its potential.

The microbiome is made up of an extraordinary number of bacterial cells, which in fact matches that of human cells, with approximately 1013 each for an average adult1. However, the importance of the microbiome comes not only from its numbers, but mainly from its activity. Scientists now see the microbiome as a forgotten organ which plays a huge role in our health and wellbeing.

Research is showing that an altered microbiome, either in its composition or its activity, may be linked to different medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. There is therefore tremendous interest and potential in reverting dysbiosis, an altered microbiome state, back to eubiosis, a normal, healthy microbiome state.

Current research focuses on better understanding the mechanisms of action in order to design novel food ingredients to address a host of health concerns

For this, food scientists are starting to design different strategies to precision engineer components of the microbiome to prevent, manage and treat many of today's chronic lifestyle diseases. While some microbiome modulating strategies have been known for decades, current research focuses on better understanding the mechanisms of action in order to design novel food ingredients to address a host of health concerns.

The first of these microbiome interventions is the use of probiotics - live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate quantities, confer a health benefit on the host2. Probiotics have been used for millennia in fermented foods and, at present, most strains have been developed to support general digestive wellness and immunity.

The second option for beneficially altering the microbiome is using prebiotics - dietary ingredients selectively utilised by the host microorganisms which essentially act as ‘food’ to confer health benefits. Gut microbes are adapted to make use of food ingredients that the human organism cannot, for example fibre, the breakdown of which can have a direct or indirect impact on a large number of intestinal microbiome members. The ability of microbes to utilise specific substrates creates the potential for a new generation of prebiotics which have genus or species specificity - stimulating the growth and activity of only those microbes that can help the human host maintain or improve health.

However, achieving true selectivity in an ecosystem as complex as the human gut is difficult, which is evident in the common occurrence of gastrointestinal side effects upon prebiotic ingestion. For this reason, prebiotic precision is key to ensuring only targeted microbes are enhanced.

Our expanding understanding of the microbiome is allowing forward-thinking life sciences companies to revolutionise traditional health management strategies. From developing probiotic strains with activities that bring specific health benefits to designing specific prebiotics that target precise microbes and enhance their growth and/or activity, the industry is now making the most of both strategies and using them together with synergistic effects. Whereas the combination of generic probiotics and prebiotics is classically known as synbiotics, these optimised products containing specific, targeted pre and probiotics are now becoming known as optibiotics.

When used as in isolation, LPGOS has been shown to reduce cholesterol in human gut models by >20%

A strong market example is Lactobacillus plantarum LPLDL, a next-generation probiotic capable of modulating the microbiome-liver axis, the crosstalk that exists between intestinal bacteria and the liver, which is heavily involved in cardiovascular health. A human intervention study3 showed this strain to be particularly efficacious, with the ability to lower blood lipids, LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure.

In order to specifically promote LPLDL’s growth and beneficial activity, the strain’s enzymic machinery is used to produce oligosaccharides (called LPGOS) which, when purified, can be co-administered with LPLDL to enhance its growth, activity and cholesterol reducing effect. In the case of LPLDL, the use of LPGOS leads to a threefold increase in the strain’s ability to lower cholesterol.

Even more interestingly, when used as in isolation LPGOS has been shown to reduce cholesterol in human gut models by >20%. Oligosaccharides, like LPGOS, are heat resistant and stable during processing - making them suitable as ingredients in a wide range of products.

With a global movement towards greater consumer interest in health and wellbeing, intestinal microorganisms are attracting significant attention in the nutraceutical sector. Microbiome modulating strategies are a massive yet largely unexplored area of opportunity for the food industry to create high value, science-based, specialty functional ingredients, with the potential to transform how health management is approached.

For more information about Optibiotix, please visit www.optibiotix.com

References

1. Sender, R., Fuchs, S. & Milo, R. Are we really vastly Outnumbered? Revisiting the ratio of bacterial to host cells in humans. Cell 164, 337–340 (2016).

2. World Health Organization. Joint FAO/WHO Working Group Report on Drafting Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food. (2002).

3. Costabile, A. et al. An in vivo assessment of the cholesterol-lowering efficacy of Lactobacillus plantarum ECGC 13110402 in normal to mildly hypercholesterolaemic adults. PLoS One 12, e0187964 (2017).

4. Zeevi, D. et al. Personalized nutrition by prediction of glycemic responses. Cell 163, 1079–1094 (2015).

5. Suez, J. et al. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature 514, 181–186 (2014).

6. Chu, W. Is OptiBiotix’s prebiotic fibre a contender to topple sugar’s standing? Nutraingredients (2018).

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