A probiotic isolated from switchgrass is one of the newest competitors in the robustness claims sweepstakes. Developed by biotech firm Imagilin Technology and marketed by New Jersey-based A&B Ingredients, the new ingredient is based on a proprietary strain of the Pediococcus acidilactici species.
“The strain was isolated by Imagilin CEO JJ Lin, who has a long history in this area,” Gil Bakal, managing director of A&B ingredients told NutraIngredients-USA. “He is a PhD microbiologist who has worked on the human microbiome project, and he formed his company in 2003 to develop a new type of probiotic.”
Looking for stability
According to Bakal, Lin saw that stability was the key factor in success of a probiotic application. Many of the early probiotics were cultured from the human gut itself, in an effort to try to identify which species conferred benefits and which caused harm. The idea then was to boost the populations of the good guys as a way to crowd out the bad. The problem with the approach has been that many of these organisms proved delicate.
“There were quite a few challenges,” Bakal said. “Most of the probiotics that were developed tended to not be able to survive well outside of the digestive tract environment.”
So Lin looked first to species that can colonize the gut but that can also survive a wider range of environments. Strains of Pediococcus acidilactici are already found in a wide variety of fermented foods.
“He focused on this species because it is stable in acidic environments. It is already present in the food supply and has a long history of safe use. It is used in the food industry already primarily as a fermenting organism in kimchi, pickled vegetables and fermented sausage,” Bakal said.
Surviving in nature
After zeroing in on the species he was interested in, Lin isolated the particular strain—called PA5051—from switchgrass that was going into grazing animals’ guts and fermenting there. The organism’s origin gives it something of a back-to-nature message, Bakal said.
“In today’s world there is so little live in anything we consume. This is kind of like recreating the paleo diet with the organisms present on the food they would have been consuming,” he said. The organism can also make a vegan claim, he said.
The adaptations that the organism had to go through to survive in the open environment and its tolerance of acidic conditions means it can travel through the stomach without special handling, Bakal said. No encapsulation, no special enteric coating.
“We can withstand a pH as low as 1.5. And oxygen is not a problem, so it can be stored at room temperature. And it can withstand 185 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes,” Bakal said.
Ease of use
Bakal said the initial target for the ingredient is in dietary supplements, but the company is also looking at food applications. The marketers of spore-forming probiotics that also target foods and supplements, such as Ganeden Biotech, Sabinsa Corp. or Nebraska Cultures, claim higher stability figures, at least in terms of temperature tolerance, for their Bacillus coagulans cultures. But that stability can be a two-edged sword, Bakal said.
“Most food plants are trying to get rid of spores because they are the thing that is so difficult to kill. And it’s hard to differentiate a good spore (such as a probiotic you are trying to add to your product) from a bad one,” Bakal said.
By contrast, Bakal said the new PA5051 probiotic is a live organism with high stability that is ready to germinate quickly but any residues it might leave behind on processing machinery can easily be cleaned with standard techniques.
Bakal said Imagilin has safety data on the strain, and also has shown that it can colonize the gut. It has also developed an early suite of efficacy data. The new strain is part of the development of the probiotic space from a shotgun approach (just get a lot of CFUs in there) to a method of drilling down to the specific strain level to prove benefits, he said.
“Originally it was you just call it a probiotic and that was enough. Then there was sort of a cold war in the probiotic space with everyone claiming higher and higher colony forming unit figures. One company claims 10 million CFUs, another claims 100 million and so on, just to get enough viable cells at the end of shelf life,” Bakal said.
“Now we are on to the next phase where it is becoming more and more about the claims related to specific strains backed by strong research. We are still early in that process, and we want to be a part of it but it is not easy. These studies can be quite expensive, and you hope get lucky to get into an NIH study or a university study,” Bakal said.
“If you look at the science claimed by some other companies, a lot of those are studies they didn’t do themselves. It wasn’t like they funded those studies from the ground up. We have data on immune response and on general gut health, and one of things we are trying to do is to excite interest on the part of potential research partners,” he said.