AI and the microbiome singled out as opportunities to offer ‘affordable nutrition’

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/Nico El Nino
©iStock/Nico El Nino
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the microbiota have been identified as opportunities for the private sector to offer affordable nutrition to lower-income consumers, who are at a higher risk of malnutrition.

The report​, compiled by the Institute for the Future (IFTF), identifies the technological innovations as two of five “opportunity zones”​ that its authors suggest will “spark an affordable nutrition revolution.”

“AI will offer new tools to help multinational and local companies deepen their understanding of consumers’ needs and aspirations,”​ said the report.

“Algorithmic persuasion will also lead consumers in lower income (and all) markets toward healthier and more economical consumption habits.”

Commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the examination into AI’s potential includes real-life examples of the technology in action.

It cited biotech company Nuritas, founded in 2014, as using AI, deep learning, and genomics to predict and provide access to food-derived peptides.

Earlier this year, Nuritas collaborated with food giants Nestlé​ to deploy their technology platform to identify peptides from natural sources. The technology then validates the efficacy of those discoveries within target food applications.

“The traditional approach to finding new active molecules is close to random, it’s like searching the ocean for a treasure chest without a map. It usually takes years and millions,”​ said Nora Khaldi, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Nuritas. “What the Nuritas technology does is create a map​.”

“Our data-driven approach powered by machine learning enables us to progress through the development cycle at incredibly fast rates at all stages from in vitro to as far as scaling of ingredient production,”​ ​ added Emmet Browne, CEO at Nuritas.

Big data expectations

The report honed in on current challenges for food companies to better target lower-income consumers identifying a lack of high-resolution population data – an issue that big data analytics, when  combined with AI could provide “a powerful lens on lower-income consumers at population, community, and individual levels”.

“Much of the developing world is leapfrogging the path of development that we have in the developed world,”​ according to AI expert and entrepreneur De Kai in an interview conducted for the report.

“They may be under the radar and they may have trouble with even clean running water, but everybody is getting these smartphones and getting online.”

In another data-dependent opportunity, the report also looked to advances made in microbiota management and microbe-friendly diets for optimum health.

While the authors acknowledged the relative immaturity of the area, they recognised the opportunities that await for food companies to design microbe-friendly and microbiota-directed foods (MDFs).

In a nod to personalised nutrition, MDFs would focus on a consumer’s microbiome to enable positive long-term nutrition outcomes, benefiting the undernourished and malnourished, which includes lower-income consumers.

Market research

According to industry analysis​, the personalised nutrition market is expected to grow from €82bn ($93bn) in 2015 to €112bn ($127bn) in 2020.

This steady growth of the personalised nutrition market opens up opportunities to personalise microbes for food and beverage applications.

Probiotics in particular market is expected to grow from €40.12bn ($45.64bn) in 2017 to €56.30bn ($64.02bn) by 2022, primarily driven by heightened consumer awareness of the health benefits of probiotic consumption.

Analysts​ believe Asia-Pacific will become the fastest-growing region as consumers in countries like China and Japan increase the probiotics in their daily diets.

European efforts to promote next-generation probiotics at the commercial scale include DuPont Nutrition and Health’s partnership​ with Estonia’s Center of Food and Fermentation Technologies (TFTAK).

The collaboration will develop cultivation techniques and bioprocesses that will produce next-generation probiotics at scale.

This partnership also focuses on the mother-infant microbiome, the gut-brain axis, and infant nutrition in order to create nutritious fermented foods and beverages.

Combining personalisation and the gut

Israeli-based firm DayTwo look to offer personalised nutrition services based on the gut microbiome.

The service combines the two disciplines by analysing an individual’s microbiome to predict blood sugar responses to thousands of different foods creating personalised nutrition recommendations to maintain a normal blood sugar level throughout the day.

With a stool sample, a short questionnaire, and a simple glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) blood test, DayTwo clinicians are able to sequence the DNA of a gut microbiome and produce a unique nutrition profile that suggests foods to keep the gut, and therefore the body, healthy.

Among the report’s insights into how microbiota management could translate into affordable nutrition, it said, “as everyone’s microbiome is unique, microbe-friendly foods will create a new need for personalised nutrition ingredients, products, and business models”.

“Striking the right balance of individual-, family-, and community level personalisation will be critical.”

The report added that there would be the need to create more personalised nutrition offerings that would give food companies a chance to create deeper ongoing relationships with consumers in place of more singular transactions.

“Moving from transactions to relations in order to support microbe-friendly foods in the marketplace can help companies build a larger base of loyal customers.”

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