WEF cites phytonutrient-led healthcare and microbiome as world-changing tech

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Phytonutrient-led healthcare & microbiome 'world-changing tech'

Related tags: WEF, phytonutrient, microbiome

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is predicting a shift to a diet-based approach to health care in the next five years, in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) will expand knowledge of the benefits of dietary phytonutrients.

In conversations with this year’s Technology Pioneers​, ​Jim Flatt, co-founder and CEO of the phytonutrient start-up Brightseed, hinted at the possibilities of taking a preventative direction that emphasises nutrition, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic.

“By 2025, healthcare systems will adopt more preventative health approaches based on the developing science behind the health benefits of plant-rich, nutrient-dense diets,”​ he says.

“After the pandemic of 2020, consumers will be more aware of the importance of their underlying health and will increasingly demand healthier food to help support their natural defences.

“The healthcare industry can respond by promoting earth’s plant intelligence for more resilient lives and to incentivise people to take care of themselves in an effort to reduce unsustainable costs,” ​Flatt adds.

Flatt’s predictions come as another one of the WEF’s technology pioneers also highlights its role in the interpretation of data-heavy research areas.

‘Sample, digitalise & interpret microbiome data’

“Technology that accelerates our ability to rapidly sample, digitalise and interpret microbiome data will transform our understanding of how pathogens spread,”​ comments Jessica Green, co-founder and CEO of Phylagen, a US-based microbiome data analytics company based in San Francisco.

“Exposing this invisible microbiome data layer will identify genetic signatures that can predict when and where people and groups are shedding pathogens, which surfaces and environments present the highest transmission risk, and how these risks are impacted by our actions and change over time.

“We are just scratching the surface of what microbiome data insights offer and will see this accelerate over the next five years,”​ she adds.

In a recent interview​ with Bloomberg, Green said that her technology could be used to identify the origin of apparel, pharmaceuticals, raw materials (such as cotton and minerals) and even food.

However, according to Pablo Perversi, chief innovation, sustainability & quality officer at chocolate maker Barry Callebaut, food may not be so easy.

“Cacao beans—like palm oil and other crops—come from different farms and are mixed together near their point of origin,”​ he said.

“For specialty brands that rely on specific sourcing, it would be very difficult to keep one farm’s beans separate from another’s.”

Brightseed-Danone deal

Meanwhile, Brightseed’s predictions come off the back of a major partnership formed with Danone, in which the San Francisco-based start-up is set to use AI to analyse phytonutrients for potential health benefits.

Inked in June, the partnership sees Brightseed aid Danone in gaining deeper insights into the type of phytonutrients contained in raw soy and reassessing previous links to health benefits.

Ongoing research has linked soy protein with the reduction of blood pressure as well as LDL cholesterol. Soy isoflavones for example have been linked to benefits to cardiovascular and bone health.

“Our AI and machine learning algorithms predict the likelihood that plants will have certain natural compounds and then we predict the likelihood that these compounds are likely to have health benefits, and then we validate that with physical and clinical tests,”​ co-founder and COO Sofia Elizondo told sister site FoodNavigator-USA.

“So, it’s like doing a Google search instead of an old yellow pages search.  We’re benefiting from decades of biomedical research on human health targets and the kinds of molecules that regulate those.

“It’s training data for our machine learning models,”​ she continued. “So, we can run these patterns against our growing proprietary library of plant compounds that we’re generating in-house.”

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