The broader/commercial impact of this SBIR project is to validate the technical and commercial viability of developing a novel fermented food to address underlying mechanisms associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a highly disruptive and prevalent disease afflicting approximately 32 million Americans. Technically, the ability to rationally design a novel fermented food with defined strain content and specific health and nutritional benefits will be validated for the first time. Commercially, the taste and acceptability for consumers will also be verified to ensure strong market demand for the product. If successful, this proposal will more broadly validate a novel platform for designing rationally fermented foods with a variety of desirable properties, including improved health and nutritional qualities, more robust preservation, and targeted removal of specific compounds/toxins. Although the initial disease target is IBS, there are many other chronic diseases with strong associative links to the microbiome; these now constitute 90% of U.S. health care spending (nearly $4 trillion) and present an urgent area for innovation that this platform could powerfully impact, both domestically and abroad.
This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project proposes to develop a new platform to precisely engineer novel fermented foods with defined microbial and metabolite content to improve human health. Fermented foods have great promise to impact the host gut and microbiome through a variety of established mechanisms, and have the advantage of high, metabolically active doses of microbes and the ability to deliver multiple strains along with their associated bioactive metabolites. However, a key technical hurdle is that it is not currently possible to precisely define the strain and metabolite content of a fermented food. This proposal addresses this challenge by leveraging recent advances in microbial strain isolation, genomic characterization and high throughput screening. First, next-generation strain isolation techniques will be applied to food-borne microbes to develop a large and deeply characterized biobank of previously inaccessible microbial strains. The strains will then be screened for activity on specific host and microbiome mechanisms. Lead strains will then be formulated into a food at commercial scale, and the presence of the strains as well as retention of their associated health properties will be confirmed. Finally, the taste profile will be validated.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.