Microbiomes at Work

Jul 19, 2018 | Food and Nutrition

The Dirt:

A mini universe of microbes exists within and around each of us. As scientists begin to genetically sequence microbiota, they have discovered ways to enhance human, animal, and plant health. Let’s look at some of the companies leading the way in microbiome applications…

All living creatures live in microbial communities of bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi, and viruses. Microbes are everywhere, keeping humans, plants, and animals healthy and thriving. They are critical to life on earth!

It is generally understood that a healthy gut microbiome is essential for good health. So, we take our vitamin supplements, drink kombucha, and make sure we feed our probiotics with prebiotics. And while we understand the importance of good bacteria and a healthy gut, microbial research is still in its infancy. In fact, its potential applications are just beginning to impact human, animal, and soil health.

Companies in this space are developing revolutionary products that will change the way we incorporate good bacteria into our daily lives. Scientists are turning sugar into a prebiotic, applying animal feed technology to human health, and using strains of bacteria to help crops resist pests and diseases. At the agriculture conference, Davos on the Delta, the Dirt-to-Dinner team was introduced to some of the companies on the forefront of these microbial technologies.

Animal Microbiome: Keeping our livestock healthy

Farmers are under pressure to reduce or completely eliminate the use of antibiotics and hormones in animals. (Want to learn more about this? Read our posts on animal antibiotics and hormones). While vitamins made specifically for animals have been used for years to keep livestock and poultry healthy, the development of pre- and probiotics take animal welfare to a whole new level. By giving livestock these types of supplements, farmers are able to help their animals’ immune systems fight off diseases. A healthy animal will cost a farmer less time to manage and will create a better animal product.

Bactana Corporation focuses on the infinite ways an animal’s microbiome, immune system, and metabolism interact. They are producing safe, effective and inexpensive alternatives to antibiotics and hormones for animals using anaerobic bacteria strains. Clinical studies have demonstrated a decrease in intestinal inflammation, an increase in milk production, and improved feed efficiency and weight gain.

Diamond V is an animal feed company that uses proprietary fermented yeast technology as a feed supplement for dairy, poultry, swine, aquaculture, beef, and equine. They specifically utilize the bacteria strains Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Lactobacillus acidophilus to support an animal’s unique blend of bioactive metabolic compounds for optimum digestive and immune health effects.

The employees at the Diamond V animal feed facilities were beneficiaries of these fermented products as well. None of them were getting sick! Turns out, the employees’ exposure to these products were keeping their immune systems strong as well. Researchers and science continued to explore this connection, and a product for human consumption, called Epicor, was created. Epicor helps strengthen the immune system. (The Dirt-to-Dinner team can also attest that it works. We found that taking Epicor helped us avoid the colds and flu that were so rampant this past winter.)

Human Microbiome: Your Gut is your Second Brain

The microbiota in our gut weighs about 2.2 pounds and consists of 1,000 different species with 3 million genes. As humans, a third of our microbiota is the same as one another, but the remaining two-thirds is specific to our unique body. These bacteria help to digest our food, keep our immune systems strong, and help our bodies make and absorb vitamins. There are multiple connections between diseases and poor gut microbiota. (Want to learn more about this? Read our posts on Your Second Brain – Gut Microbiota).

Sugar has been demonized for a myriad of issues taking place in the human gut. But while conventional sugars, such as table sugar and fructose, are associated with unhealthy eating habits and disease, there are many other complex sugars in nature that act as healthy prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food for probiotics and a healthy gut microbiome is dependent on both for optimal health.

Two companies currently finding an application for natural sugars as prebiotics are Sugarlogix and Bonumose.  Sugarlogix has developed the technology to ferment “good” sugars into foods that can be sweet and healthy. Human breast milk, for instance, contains many healthy components, including good sugars. Could it be possible to duplicate these sugars in a lab and create a milk chocolate bar that tastes wonderful and feeds your healthy bacteria?

Bonumose is developing good-for-you sugars, such as tagatose and allulose, which are 92% as sweet as sucrose, but have 38% fewer calories and an extremely low glycemic index. They also work with mannose, a prebiotic that can be used to treat various infections.

Grow Company, Inc. manufactures food flavors, natural coloring agents and animal and human health supplements. One of their primary products, Biogrown® vitamins and minerals, uses probiotics as a sophisticated nutrient delivery system. For example, vitamin B can be hard for your body to completely absorb. By combining Saccharomyces cerevisiae, otherwise known as Baker’s Yeast, with Lactobacillus bulgaricus, a cultured yogurt, Grow Company has developed a way to help you properly digest vitamins and minerals, which may prevent gut maladies.

Soil Microbiome: Microbes for increased crop yield and health

There are large agri-science companies, such as BASF, Bayer, BioWorks, Certis, DowDuPont and Syngenta, involved with biological seed treatments or soil enhancements, but there continues to be new innovations in this space. (Want to learn more? Read our post on Soil Microbes in the Spotlight).

NewLeaf Symbiotics is one of the companies that has set out to answer the questions, “What if we could make plants healthier and help them overcome threats like pests, disease, and drought?” and “What if we could position growers to meet the needs of the growing population by strengthening crops – naturally?

Rather than looking at the whole array of soil microbes, NewLeaf Symbiotics focuses on the m-trophs, which are native-to-plant microbes. Sequencing this bacteria has enabled them to provide a potent force for plant immunity and nutrient uptake.

Holganix has created a complete ecosystem in a bottle, containing over 800 species of beneficial soil microbes among other ingredients. This mixture of microbes is applied to soil to help farmers use fewer inputs and increase yields.

Biome Makers has examined 22,000 microbial species in the soil relevant to vineyards. They make recommendations and provide analytical tools to optimize microbial activity for both grape growth and fermentation.

Agbiome isolates microbes from environmental samples across the globe to create biological pesticides that kill insects, fungal pathogens and weeds.

Indigo Agriculture develops microbial seed treatments to support crops grown under stress, which will naturally help them defend against pests and diseases. Indigo coated seeds have helped farmers increase their crop yields by up to 15% without added use of chemicals or water. In addition, Indigo will partner with farmers and offer a robust marketplace for their crops. For instance, farmers who grow Indigo wheat sell for a premium to breweries and flour mills that demand GMO-free and insecticide-free products.

 

The Bottom Line: 

As advances are made in microbial research and DNA sequencing, innovative companies are striving to improve the health and productivity of the human, animal and soil microbiomes. Keep an eye out for continued research in this space!