With this partnership, ADM invested an undisclosed amount into Brightseed's AI Forager technology, which discovers bioactives in plants and decodes the molecular interactions between dietary plants and gut microbes and how they improve health. Additionally, Brightseed now has access to ADM's microbe library, which will assist in discovering synbiotics.
This partnership goes beyond a simple research partnership, Elizondo said. The two companies aim to launch functional ingredients for foods, beverages and dietary supplements by 2025. Brightseed has already released Brightseed Bio 01, a powder dietary fiber sourced from hemp hulls for functional food and beverage applications, using the Forager platform.
“We're really focused on being commercially oriented, so it's not just like a research collaboration. We have line-of-sight to products here. And the next frontier, the next generation of microbiome-oriented products are synbiotics, and that's what we're focused on.”
The next big thing in gut health: Synbiotics
While probiotics and prebiotics have been all the rage in gut health, the two in the right proportions create synbiotics that can offer important gut health benefits, Elizondo explained.
“There is a really important transformation [that] happens when you connect the right bug and the right kind of plant stuff, and that is a synergy that creates the health-beneficial effect," Elizondo said. "The bug without the right plant doesn't give you the benefit... But if you combine them, it is that synergy that gives you the health benefit.”
For example, flaxseeds are high in Omega 3s and also have "very long fiber, and that kind of fiber actually cannot be digested" on its own, Elizondo explained. However, "if it [meets] a specific bug in the microbiome, then that fiber gets basically broken up into pieces," which are absorbed into the body to "provide ... anti-inflammatory heart health benefits," she said.
Unlocking the “dark matter of the plant kingdom” with AI
When it comes to finding bioactives in plants and these synergies, scientists only know a small fraction of the molecules that occur in nature, Elizondo pointed out.
“More than 99% of the molecules that are in nature are still to be known by science, and ... it's called the dark matter of the plant kingdom.”
The Forager system uses "a combination of AI and actual physical processes" to find these bioactive compounds, Elizondo said. The platform can “predict where we can find [bioactive], and what effects they have in our bodies when we ingest them, and then ... we validate all of that,” she said.
As part of the physical process, Brightseed uses Orbitrap Mass Spectrometry to find “untargeted information” on the molecular composition of plant samples, as opposed to traditional gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) that only searches for targeted metabolomics (i.e., it can determine if a known compound is in the sample being analyzed).
“We don't know what we don't know, and this kind of search will help us get into the dark matter of the plant kingdom,” she added.
From there, Brightseed puts “computational machine learning predictive analytics over that” to “see what compounds are in there,” Elizondo said. “This is the very first step to understand which of these compounds are actually bioactive for the human body,” she added.
To validate whether a compound actually has a benefit to gut health, Brightseed curates biomedical literature and “[trains] the algorithms on pattern recognition,” and “with every validation of that our algorithms get smarter and faster,” Elizondo said.
While she noted the process of finding bioactives is “not always perfect,” it’s “better than either a random walk or any other predictive kind of approaches."