Regular readers of NutraIngredients-USA will know that Fitbiomics has been exploring the potential of athlete-derived probiotics for several years since spinning out from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
Speaking with us via video, Jonathan Scheiman, PhD, the company’s CEO, said: “Over the past few years we’ve been developing prototypes, we’ve been scaling our athlete-derived probiotics, we’ve been doing beta-testing with really great results, and that has all led to Nella.
“This particular probiotic is a formulation of three athlete-derived Lactobacillus – plantarum, rhamnosus, acidophilus – these are all proprietary to Fitbiomics and uniquely sourced from elite athlete microbiomes.
“For us, this is the start of a new frontier and category.”
Mining the microbiome
Interest in how the gut microbiome is linked to athletic performance – and the potential of modulation of the microbiota via pre- and probiotics to boost performance – is an area of increasing interest.
A recent extensive review of the athletic gut microbiota (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2020, Vol. 17, Article No: 24) found that much of the human research into the athletic microbiome has been done only recently.
Starting in 2014 in Ireland with a study on rugby players, 10 studies have looked into gut microbiome makeup among athletes, and seven of those have been published in just the past two years. In addition to the rugby players, subjects have included professional cyclists, elite distance runners, competitive walkers and Olympic rowers.
Understanding that the gut microbiome of elite athletes is more diverse and displays a higher abundance of health-promoting bacterial species is only half of the discussion, however. The next question is whether it could be possible to mine these elite microbiomes for potential novel probiotic strains.
And that is exactly what Fitbiomics is doing.
“We know certain species are high value in the industry, but they’re decades old and they’re isolated from baby poop, food, or the soil. So, can we find improvements in athletes’ guts, strains that naturally thrive and function in them?
“The other application is just de novo discovery, things like Veillonella that the market hasn’t seen before. We’re taking both approaches.”
The Veillonella strain was the subject of a paper published in 2019 in Nature Medicine by Harvard University and Fitbiomics. The team focused on a strain of one strain of Veillonella atypica, which they found were increased in abundance in ultra-marathon runners post-race.
The specific strain offers a heightened ability to deal with lactic acid, one of the byproducts of high intensity exercise, and therefore may offer endurance benefits. The scientists established a crucial and important link that lactic acid metabolism in the gut could influence muscular lactic acid levels.
Scheiman said that Veillonella could be used in a product in the future.
"Nella is just an evolvable platform"
“For every microbiome company, the bottlenecks are going from lab-scale discovery to industrial scale and commercial feasibility, and I’m excited to say we’ve scaled Veillonella. We have around 35 kilograms of it under food grade conditions. We have commercially-viable CFU counts per gram comparable to current probiotics on the market. And we’ve started the safety studies required for the regulatory process.”
“Nella really is just an evolvable platform,” said Scheiman. “We have this first product for gut health with these novel Lactobacillus strains but that then paves the way for Veillonella and other innovations as well.”
Dr Scheiman will be speaking at the upcoming IPA World Congress + Probiota Americas digital summit, June 15-17. For more information about the program, the speakers, and to register, please click HERE.