The possibilities of tackling micronutrient deficiencies, inflammatory diseases, and personalising nutrition via microbiome engineering are closer than people think, according to Dr Ihab Boulas, co-founder and CEO of Unibiome.
Dr Boula’s idea, in which technology is used to redesign microbial communities, is possible thanks to recent advances in the field of synthetic biology in which a new way to ‘engineer’ health may be possible.
He believes the nutritional enhancement of foods is a ‘game changing approach’ for coping with the predicted nine billion people that need to be fed by 2050.
“Every day we eat microorganisms such as probiotics. We eat foods that have been processed by microorgansims and couldn’t exist without them, such as bread, yoghurt and cheese.”
“By analysing these microorganisms that live on this food and isolating the rare microorganisms that have the most interesting features, we can then enhance them and combine them into what we call ‘Enhanced Probiotics Formulations.’
“These formulations can then be used to improve fermentation, providing the end product with more healthy compounds such as vitamins.”
Enhanced probiotics is not limited to producing higher vitamin yields. One of Dr Boulhas’ talking points in the presentation he will give at Probiota 2017 expands on the use of these microorganisms to increase the bioavailability of other nutrients.
“The most obvious compounds that this approach can tackle are vitamins, minerals, trace elements, omega-3 and omega-6, etc. The other kinds of compounds that can be produced are prebiotics.
“The main challenge resides in our ability to increase the pace at which our technology is able to isolate the most rare and interesting microorganisms. The faster, more autonomous and systematic our technology will become the wider variety of nutrition needs we will be able to tackle.”
What makes this approach unique is how it builds on established eating habits that do not require the consumer to adapt or modify food preferences that are firmly ingrained and therefore familiar.
“The idea of a unique diet for everyone is not rational,” he explained. “Different people react differently to different diets and people inherently have different lifestyles and food habits.
“Our approach can target the particular deficiencies of specific people in a non-invasive way. We don’t require people to convert to a new product. That allows us to make nutrition and diet-related health finally easy and effective.”
Gut bugs and disease
The role of the gut in fighting disease is already well-established with strong evidence that links microbial communities that exist in the gut with well-being.
Hallmarks of disease, such as inflammation, are a constant noted in metabolic syndrome and a range of cardiovascular diseases.
“Our health is at least in part due to our diet. It is not controversial to claim that one’s overall health will be improved by an improved diet.”
“This approach allows the prevention of some diseases in a systematic fashion instead of trying to fix them after they have occurred, such as inflammatory diseases.
“We understand everyday a little bit more how the gut flora plays a crucial role in one's health. By developing the best probiotics, as well as prebiotics-producing probiotics, we can pay the rightful attention to the gut flora.”
Unibiome (previously Peer-to-Peer Probiotics), is a French biotechnology firm that Dr Boulhas’ set up along with fellow researchers from the University Paris Descartes and University Paris Diderot.
In April of this year, they were awarded the Kirchner Prize for their work in producing shareable vitamin-enriched probiotics to tackle malnutrition in the developing world.
“We envision a world where repurposing the food microbiome to increase its nutritional value is democratised,” Dr Boulhas said.
“At Unibiome, we are developing this modular technology, designing enhanced probiotic formulations, to transform the empty calories contained in cereals into a complete nutritional food.”
Prebiotics and probiotics and the microbiome will be discussed in-depth at Probiota 2017 in Berlin on February 1-3.
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