The region's leading probiotic and microbiome event — Probiota Asia — will get underway in Singapore this month with a stellar line-up of speakers, including the likes of Blackmores, Danone, Herbalife and Life-Space, set to take to the stage.
The mission, which covers four areas of human health — namely, metabolic, immune, digestive and infant health — is currently working on testing the impact of kumara (or sweet potato) on infants' gut microbiota, which undergoes a transformation upon introduction to solid food.
The researchers, who are from the University of Auckland, AgResearch, Riddet Institute and Malaghan Institute, considered 13,000 scientific publications and identified over 1,600 papers on the infant gut microbiome and immune health.
They also worked with IT researchers in Italy to aid them in a more targeted approach towards identifying foods with potential gut health benefits for infants, before finalising a list of such foods that were suitable for infants aged six months and above.
Acting in reverse
Principal investigator Clare Wall told NutraIngredients-Asia: "We wanted to look at the effect of the microbiome on infants' immune health, and then at what the microbiome prefers to feeds on preferentially in order to proliferate.
"In the past, what a lot of studies did was to feed people a certain type of diet, then collect their stool samples and measure the bacterial composition of those samples."
This time, however, the researchers are using a somewhat novel method of assessing the gut microbiome, called 'reverse metabolomics'.
"Instead of just feeding people certain types of food and then analysing their microbiome via their stool samples, we decided to take a reverse genomics or 'metabolomics' approach."
She added that her team wanted to assess the existing literature and what had been determined so far in terms of gut health-related immune benefits, as well as what kind of food the microbiome tended to feed on, before coming up with a list of relevant foods.
"What we are doing now is running a trial for six months: we've recruited our target study population of 40 babies around six months old — just before they start on solid foods — and will feed them kumara over six months, then collect lots of samples from them.
"These samples include saliva, blood and stool samples, as well as breastmilk samples from the mothers. We’re looking to see whether eating kumara has any immune health benefits for the babies."
Scientific and commercial expansion
The idea, Wall said, was to expand on the indications observed in previous studies that kumara helps with the growth of good bacteria in the infant gut microbiome.
Other identified foods on the researchers' list include broccoli, cereal-based infant foods, and yogurts for infants, which may have a told to play in further study on infant gut health.
Wall revealed: "We have the 40 babies we need for our initial proof-of-concept study, so after we get the results from it, we’ll run a large RCT next year, where we want to test kumara and other foods."
This is expected to have commercial implications, whereby manufacturers will have greater opportunities for fortification using such ingredients in their infant food and nutrition products.
"One of the main reasons we are doing this is that hope we can demonstrate to infant food manufacturers that we have the capability and capacity to run studies for them on their food products, which will have benefits for infants.
"I expect that we will learn a lot more from the study about the effect of these first foods on the infant gut microbiome."