Disruptive tech: The AI, genetic and bioactive research guiding supplement development

By Claudia Adrien

- Last updated on GMT

Less than .1% of the plant secondary metabolites have actually been annotated, which provides a huge untapped opportunity, said Swati Kalgaonkar, Brightseed.
Less than .1% of the plant secondary metabolites have actually been annotated, which provides a huge untapped opportunity, said Swati Kalgaonkar, Brightseed.

Related tags Technology AI bioactives

Technologies presented at this year’s Sports and Active Nutrition Summit tackled a range of personalized nutrition needs, addressing everything from hydration to bioactives. Researchers spoke during the talk: ‘Disruptive Tech—From Nutrigenomics to AI for Ingredient Innovation.'

Brian Bender, co-founder at Intake Health, spoke about InFlow, his company’s urinal-based test that measures hydration​. The test is currently used by nearly half of all male U.S. professional sports teams to improve team hydration immediately. Intake Health is also developing a test for women.     

“By the time you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated, most likely,” Bender said. “And there's other challenges, such as there's variability in when thirst occurs from person to person.”

People can drink small amounts of water, and it satiates that thirst sensation. But as more fluid enters the body, there’s a cascade of hormones to help the body maintain the fluids it already has. Kidneys reabsorb that water.

“When you’re working hard during the day and it’s hot and humid, your urine becomes darker,” Bender said. “Your kidneys are reabsorbing water, and it becomes more concentrated, which leads us to measuring hydration status.”

InFlow works by being placed in a urinal. Once the inserted cup is full of urine, it gives users a red, yellow or green result to indicate various levels of dehydration. There is also a female version of InFlow in the works, Bender said. As for the future, Intake Health plans to go beyond hydration analysis and create tests that can also detect supplements, or lack thereof, in urine. 


Other companies are keenly focused on nutrigenomics, the interface between nutrition and genetic makeup. It’s about determining which supplements are right for individuals based on their genetics.

“One of the goals of research in this area is to try to figure out how we can use genetic testing to understand why some people respond differently from others to the same foods, beverages and supplements that they consume,” said Ahmed El-Sohemy, chief science officer at Nutrigenomix.

The company explores how specific variations in genes explain how people respond to the foods, beverages and supplements they consume. Nutrigenomix offers consumers a report of 77 key genes.

Nutrients can turn certain genes on and off. Nutrients or bioactive substances can cause epigenetic changes in those genes that alter the expression and biological function.

“We're trying to understand how variations in genes affect the way we respond to diet,” El-Sohemy said. “Genes code for proteins and affect the absorption, the distribution, the cellular uptake and the elimination of virtually everything that we ingest. I think it's absolutely critical that we take genetics into account when we're studying the effects of nutrition on any outcome, not just athletic performance, but on cardiovascular outcomes and other health outcomes.”

El-Sohemy added that there’s growing interest in developing personalized supplements that are tailored to an individual's genetics. There are also opportunities to apply this genetic research to bioactives.

“I've been approached by a couple of companies that are looking at certain plant extracts, and we know there are certain drug metabolizing enzymes that metabolize those substances,” he said. “You can essentially classify people into fast and slow metabolizers of almost everything that they consume.”

Bioactives and AI

Less than .1% of the plant secondary metabolites have actually been annotated, which provides a huge untapped opportunity, said Swati Kalgaonkar, director of medical, scientific and regulatory affairs at biotechnology company Brightseed.

“Bioactives are all around us, and yet all of the bioactives that we know today, all of the bioactives that we consume today, study today, investigate today, barely, again, scratch the surface of the list of bioactives that are actually out there,” she said.

That’s where Brightseed’s Forager AI platform comes into play. The technology helps enable high throughput identification, not only helping to identify an index of plant sources but analysis as well. It’s also fed with the largest database of plant compounds, Kalgaonkar said.

The third component of the AI, and the most important, she added, is providing a curated model of human health down to mechanism of actions and targeted receptors.

“The Brightseed AI platform can not only help identify that target receptor but also identify the plant bioactives that may act as agonists to help rescue gut permeability or to help rescue gut restoration, rather,” she said. “And then the ingredient discovery timeline can be significantly shortened with the use of AI.”

Related topics Research Sports nutrition

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