Do probiotics work in outer space? Yakult launches mission to find out...

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bacteria, Lactobacillus

Yakult's second plant in Indonesia is likely to start production in December 2013
Yakult's second plant in Indonesia is likely to start production in December 2013
How do our gut bacteria handle a prolonged stint in space? And do probiotics work in the same way up there vs down here on earth?

As a pioneer in lactic acid bacteria research, probiotics expert Yakult is on a mission to find out via a series of experiments on the International Space Station (ISS).

Astronauts could be affected by stress and cosmic radiation

The Japanese firm, which has just completed the self-affirmed GRAS process​ for its proprietary probiotic strain L. casei Shirota​, says extended periods in space can put astronauts under severe stress, which could affect their immunity.

“In outer space, astronauts are physically affected by a number of factors, such as stress arising from living in the non-terrestrial microgravity environment and confined space like a spaceship, as well as cosmic radiation circulating in the universe."

Takeshi Umeda from Yakult's International Business Department told NutraIngredients-USA: "As far as we know, there have been few reports of research on the effects that an extended stay in space has on a person's intestinal microflora and immunity. Astronauts are likely to experience changes in their intestinal environment, which may result in intestinal microflora imbalances and a lowering of immunity."

New study group aims to verify effects of lactic acid bacteria in outer space

To explore how probiotics could help, Yakult has set up an intestinal environment improvement study group, which is part of the Kibo Utilization Forum, an organization established by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to promote the utilization of Kibo, the Japanese experiment module in the ISS.

This “aims to verify, in outer space, the effects of taking lactic acid bacteria which have been proved in the earth's environment”, ​said the firm.

“The company is determined to leverage its expertise gained from years of intestinal flora research to contribute to human health from the perspective of preventive medicine—both now and in the space age to come.”

Plant no. 2 in Indonesia to start production in December 2013

Separately, Yakult also announced plans to expand its operations in Indonesia to meet growing demand for its fermented dairy drinks.

Yakult, which entered the Indonesian market in the early 1990s and has a plant near Jakarta, said its wholly owned subsidiary, P.T. Yakult Indonesia Persada, will start building the new plant in September and expects the first bottles to start rolling off the production line in December 2013.

While more than half of its revenues are still generated in Japan, Yakult has been steadily increasing its presence in overseas markets, and notched up strong volume growth in Indonesia in 2011, selling on average 2.25 million bottles of Yakult per day, up 27.5% vs 2010.

The new plant at Ngoro Industrial Park, Mojokerto District, East Java Province, will have a production capacity of 610,000 bottles per day initially, ultimately growing to around 3.69m bottles/day.

Yakult USA

Yakult is also growing fast in the US, where consumers now drink around 142,000 bottles of Yakult a day, 24% more than they were gulping down this time last year.

And while Yakult USA still remains a relatively small player in its global probiotics empire, it is a key area of focus for Yakult, which will open its first US factory in Fountain Valley, California, in the fall of 2013.

The factory is a short drive from Yakult USA’s HQ in Torrance, CA, and will supply stores in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico (which are currently supplied by its factory in Guadalajara, Mexico), but will also provide a platform for expansion into new regions.

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