Bill Gates: ‘Probiotics key to solving malnutrition’

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/PaulaPhoto
©iStock/PaulaPhoto

Related tags: Bill & melinda gates foundation, Probiotic, Malnutrition

Probiotics could be key in addressing malnutrition, according to Bill Gates, who calls the nutritional imbalances affecting around 200 million children under five ‘the greatest health inequity in the world.’

Writing in the UK’s Telegraph​ newspaper, the ex CEO of Microsoft points to the microbiome as central to solving the challenge of malnutrition within twenty years.

“We’re still in the relatively early stages of research into the microbiome,”​ he writes. “Over the next 10 to 20 years, we’re going to learn more about each individual microbial species and how they work with the food you eat to impact health.

“That knowledge will allow us to smartly engineer interventions that “correct” the microbiome when it’s out of whack.”

In anticipation of his presentation at Cambridge University today, Gates also speaks of future possibilities and the idea of personalising probiotics, in which next-generation probiotic pills can be created to contain tailored bacterial combinations that ensure optimal gut health.

Detecting gut imbalances

Bill Gates
Bill Gates. ©Simon Davis/DFID

The idea is not so far off with the Spanish Institute of Personalised Nutrition (IENP) and Optibioitx in the midst of developing a genomic test to analyse the gut microbiome to detect imbalances, which may potentially lead to different health conditions.

Based on results, IENP then place customers on targeted food supplement regimens in an attempt to correct these gut imbalances.

One of IENP’s products is COL-15, a microbiome-modulating food supplement commercialised under the ‘39ytú’ brand.

Other gut health firms that combine microbiome testing with personalised probiotic recommendations include US-based companies Thryve, uBiome and Synthetic Biologics.

However, issues such as person-specific gut mucosal colonisation resistance to probiotics, highlighted in a recent Cellstudy​ merits further research and development of new personalised probiotic approaches.

Through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, research programs have looked into driving progress in global health, addressing issues such as Tuberculosis eradication, vaccinations, childhood mortality and malnutrition.

The foundation recently backed an initiative looking to maximise yield and minimise the cost of growing probiotic strains of human gut microbes in batch fermenters.

The University of Virginia intends to build an algorithm from metabolomic and growth data that predicts the optimal strain combinations for specific growth conditions.

Gut-boosting foods

In his article, Gates also mentions the idea of “microbiota-directed complementary foods,”​ that encourage the growth of bacteria, which promote the digestion of food protecting the host from infection.

This includes the exclusive breastfeeding of children for the first 6 months of postnatal life and continued breastfeeding after the introduction of complementary foods up to 24 months of age. As directed by World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Other foods mentioned for possible gut-enhancing qualities include rice, milk powder, potato, spinach, and sweet pumpkin.

“Now that we’re understanding more about how the gut gets messed up, we’re figuring out how to change it,”​ Gates says.

“And that is going to not only help prevent malnutrition and obesity, but lots of other diseases – like asthma, allergies, and some autoimmune diseases, which may be trigged by an unbalancedmicrobiome.

“If we can figure nutrition out – and I believe we will within the next two decades – we’ll save millions of lives and improve even more.”

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