Probiota Americas: Zbiotics aims to change the GMO conversation with probiotics

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Dr_Microbe / Getty Images
© Dr_Microbe / Getty Images

Related tags Probiotics Probiota americas

A focus on transparency and direct benefits for the end user may help change the conversation around genetic engineering, says the CEO of the company behind the world’s first ever genetically engineered probiotic.

Speaking with NutraIngredients-USA, Zack Abbott, PhD, CEO and co-founder of Zbiotics, explained that the company started from the hypothesis that the major problem with genetic engineering was the way it was being communicated and the way it was being used.

“But the technology itself has a ton of promise for benefiting humanity and so I felt that if we started a company that used genetic engineering that directly benefited the end user, and we were extremely transparent about the fact that we were using it, how we were using it, and why we were using it, then this conversation could move forward instead of being hidden behind closed doors,” ​he said. Dr Abbott will feature at the upcoming IPA World Congress + Probiota Americas event, June 15-17, 2021​.

The direct benefit that the company has targeted with its first product is acetaldehyde, which is an intermediate product in the metabolism of alcohol (ethanol).

In the liver, enzymes convert ethanol to acetaldehyde and then a second enzyme converts acetaldehyde to acetate. The liver is quite effective at this conversion, but there is also a microbiome component to this picture: Some of the alcohol we drink is metabolized in the gut, but the conversion of acetaldehyde to acetate is less efficient in the gut.

And this is where Zbiotics comes in: The company has engineered a probiotic bacterium to express one extra protein to break down acetaldehyde.


The regulatory landscape was a major factor in deciding how to approach the technology, said Abbott. “We made a very specific decision, because I wanted to approach the conversation that people could really engage with in their healthy daily lives rather than in a disease state, we really made the decision to specifically not be a drug… so we packaged it as a food product. It’s a small beverage that contains our engineered probiotic.

“We make the arguments that, based on the genetics and what we’ve created, there’s no reasonable expectation that it would be unsafe and then of course we showed scientifically that it was indeed safe. It’s the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) food pathway.”

Abbott is clear that the product is not a ‘hangover cure’. “This is science and not science fiction. When you drink, there are many factors that contribute to a hangover. Acetaldehyde is one facet of this. We built something that made sense biochemically – we could attack a single molecule in a known biochemical way to help.

PepsiCo’s Greenhouse Accelerator

Zack Abbott, Zbiotics
Zack Abbott, PhD, Zbiotics

Earlier this year, Zbiotics was selected as one of 10 ‘game-changing’ companies from around the world to join PepsiCo’s Greenhouse Accelerator program.

Abbott said to be named in the cohort was “huge”.

“We started this company and launched the world’s first ever genetically engineered probiotic of any kind. Because it was the first, we hadn’t really figured out how we were going to introduce it, how we were going to bring it to customers. We were really grateful for the opportunity to bring that direct to consumer, so we could have that conversation. That being said, the potential for this technology is so much bigger than what we can do.

“Thinking of the possibility of developing products that could theoretically be ingredients in lots of other products. Being in the PepsiCo Greenhouse Accelerator has allowed us to explore that aspect of the technology.”


IPA World Congress + Probiota Americas 2021

Probiota Americas + IPA logo 2021 + date FINAL

Hear more from Dr Abbott at the upcoming IPA World Congress + Probiota Americas 2021​, June 15-17, during the session, Disruptive Scientific Advances: From Artificial Intelligence to Microbial Intelligence

The session kicks off with a presentation by Anna Paola Carrieri, PhD, from IBM Research about Artificial Intelligence, and this is followed by a panel discussion featuring Dr Giovanna Felis (University of Verona), Dr Rodolphe Barrangou (North Carolina State University), Raja Dhir (Seed Health), and Dr Zack Abbott (Zbiotics).

The session will also feature a presentation by Dr Tom Coenye (Ghent University) about microbial intelligence.

For more information and to book your place today, click HERE​.


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