DuPont entered into a multi-year partnership with the APC Microbiome Institute in Ireland — the venture's first major partnership — to create solutions that establish a healthy microbiome for infants.
“Microbiome science is developing extremely fast with tremendous opportunity for innovation,” Angela Naef, DuPont Nutrition & Health's global technology and innovation leader, said in a statement. “With the Microbiome Venture, we intend to build on our probiotics leadership position to develop new microbiome science-based solutions for health and wellness.”
Consumers today are paying more attention to their gut health. This trend has pushed food and beverage manufacturers to add probiotics and prebiotics to their existing formulas, and it has created demand for value adds that improve consumer microbiomes.
The trillions of bacteria and other microbes in the human body, known collectively as the microbiome, far outnumber other cells. It is thought that they have a significant impact on health, influencing everything from obesity and digestive issues to food allergies and even cancer. Although scientists are still unsure about how most of them function, emerging research has suggested a link between an individual’s unique microbiome and these conditions.
The main focus of research into products for improved gut health continues to be probiotics, but prebiotics are on the rise, too. Demand for prebiotic-containing products — such as health drinks, dairy, infant food, meat and bakery products — could reach $7.8 billion by 2022, according to a Global Industry Analysts’ report. Meanwhile, the same firm predicts the probiotics market will exceed $63 billion at the same time.
For DuPont, its initiative will help the company develop top-of-the-line solutions for infant formula, giving bottle-fed babies similar good bacteria that breastfed babies receive from their mothers. DuPont has already conducted clinical trials showing how boosting the immune system can reduce antibiotic use. The company also markets probiotic strains that target health and immunity issues for infants through adults. It seems like a reasonable step for the company to go from that point to the infant food and beverage space.
DuPont is emphasizing the importance of R&D developments targeted at the earliest stage of life: An infant acquires microbiota at birth from its mother during the transfer of microbes present in the birth canal, breast milk and skin. Then, around age two, the child develops a mature microbiome.
Other food manufacturers getting into microbiome R&D include Dannon, which announced last year it would fund educational grants and fellowships as part of a White House project. Unlocking the secrets of the microbiome also could fuel the growth of medical foods, in which Nestle and Hormel already play a role.
Manufacturers can use findings from microbiome research to engineer food products that specifically improve gut health and bacterial composition. This could be a potentially lucrative opportunity, particularly for food companies struggling against more nimble upstarts that are luring consumers with their healthier, more trendy fare.