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“Dark matter of nutrition”: Danone-Brightseed partnership delves into AI-powered phytonutrient analysis

June 11, 2020
Food & Drink

Despite their prevalence in traditional diets and traditional usage worldwide, the vast majority of phytonutrients in the plant kingdom remain unexplored.

Danone North America has entered a new partnership with Brightseed, a biosciences company and developer of a unique artificial intelligence (AI) that maps novel plant nutrients to human health. Brightseed’s proprietary AI identifies nutrients and validates their impact so these can be used to support the body’s natural defenses. The company is now working to identify potential molecular connections between certain compounds present in Danone’s raw soy and newfound health benefits previously unlinked to the crop.

“Phytonutrients are tiny molecules found in plants that promote human health, including anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective and neuroprotective activities. They are so powerful that two-thirds of small-molecule medicines developed for human health are originally derived from them. However, only 1 percent of these plant molecules have been identified and applied for health purposes,” a spokesperson of the partnership tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

Brightseed’s AI maps phytonutrients to specific human health targets, and the Brightseed team aims to validate new findings with biological and clinical trials. “In addition to novel discovery and deep exploration on the health benefits of a single ingredient, we partner with companies to provide detailed crop nutrition profiles, analyze existing supply chains and waste streams, and identify natural alternatives to synthetics,” the spokesperson details.

Beginning with soy, Brightseed’s AI maps phytonutrients to specific human health targets, and the Brightseed team aims to validate new findings with biological and clinical trials.“The academic community sometimes refers to this space as the ‘dark matter of nutrition.’ That’s where Brightseed comes in; a computational approach results in far more potential discoveries made substantially faster than by human researchers, and the bioactivity of each discovery is scientifically and clinically validated in-house. Brightseed will empower consumers to make smarter decisions around which products best support their health goals, with tangible science to back it up,” they add.

The nascent partnership is multi-phased and is pegged as pioneering scientific discovery of the health benefits in key plant-based ingredients, beginning with soy. The data collected can inform on what soy crops and varieties are more nutrient-dense or have unique health bioactives to leverage “superior” varieties in the company’s products using its proprietary and clean extraction process.

“The scientific community is aware of approximately 100,000 plant molecules and what they can do for human health. However, there are millions more out there,” says the spokesperson. “Brightseed is on track to map the entirety of the plant kingdom within five years, so that we can precisely understand which are most valuable to consume for our health. We partner with mission-aligned brands to make and bring discoveries to market.”

Tech-fueled crops
The Danone-Brightseed partnership comes at a moment when health and wellness are at the forefront of the consumer mindset, and the plant-based revolution is in full swing. Additionally, consumer preferences have evolved as more flexitarians and dairy lovers are including more plant-based options into their daily routines.

Last April, the “urgent need” for renewed public debate about new breeding technologies was flagged by agricultural economists at the University of Göttingen in Germany. While advancements in the past have been successful at increasing farming yields, the scientists note that more research is needed in addressing the endemic micronutrient deficiencies that still exist.

In February, seed breeding specialist Equinom closed its Series B round of funding of US$10 million, led by BASF Venture Capital. Using the new capital injection, the Israeli start-up aims to expand its novel cross breeding method of plant seeds, which raises a crop’s protein content and tailors its organoleptic properties to the specifications of a particular company.

A growing focus within the scientific community on elevating the nutritional profiles of traditional crops comes in line with consumer demand for better-for-you products. Looking ahead, agri-food businesses can expect further strides to be made in this dynamic space.

By: Benjamin Ferrer

Source: Food Ingredients First

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