Probiotics and immunity: South Korea to commercialise novel kimchi-derived product

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

South Korea's Rural Development Administration has developed the probiotic strain Weisella cibaria JW15 from kimchi. ©Getty Images
South Korea's Rural Development Administration has developed the probiotic strain Weisella cibaria JW15 from kimchi. ©Getty Images

Related tags kimchi Probiotics South korea

South Korea’s Rural Development Administration (RDA) is working with an industry partner, Huons Nature, in commercialising a kimchi-derived probiotic that has shown to be beneficial for immune health.

The kimchi-derived probiotic is Weisella cibaria JW15. ​It was isolated and studied by RDA and researchers from Chungbuk National University in 2013 and later granted a patent in 2015.  

Most probiotic strains available in the commercial market comes from the lactobacillus ​and Bifidobacterium ​genus.

The Weisella ​genus comes from the lactic acid bacteria family and contains 23 species, including Weisella kimchii, Weisella koreensis, and Weisella cibaria.

In particular, the Weisella cibaria JW15 ​has shown to exert a better immune-modulatory effect than lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG)​ by producing a higher amount of nuclear factor kB (NF-KB), interleukin-1β (IL-1β), nitric oxide (NO), and tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α).

The RDA signed a technology transfer agreement with Huons Nature on March 15 to commercialising the technology behind the probiotic strain.

“We are happy to be transferred the technology behind the lactic acid bacteria which has shown efficacy in improving immune function, since the importance of immunity has increased due to various environmental changes such as COVID-19,” ​said Cheong Woon Cheon, representative director of Huons Nature.

Human clinical study

On the other hand, Weisella cibaria JW15 ​has been shown to increase the amount of natural killer (NK) cells by 1.5 times in human subjects who have taken the probiotic as compared to the placebo in an eight-week study.

Writing in the Journal of Functional Foods, ​the researchers from Yonsei University pointed out that daily consumption of the probiotic had “effectively enhanced immune functions by increasing NK cell activity.”

In the year 2016 study, 100 subjects were randomised into two groups, with the intervention group taking 10bn CFU of Weisella cibaria JW15 ​daily and the remaining group taking the placebo.

Another four-week animal model​ showed that cytokines levels were raised in aged mice that have received Weisella cibaria JW15 ​as compared to the control group.

Specifically, mice that received Weisella cibaria JW15 ​was found to have secreted a higher level of cytokines such as IFN-γ and IL-6 in their white blood cells.

In addition, their mRNA expression of various cytokines was altered.


Last year, researchers from the RDA developed a way in encapsulating Weisella cibaria JW15 ​using alginate and chicory root extract powder.

It was found that the capsules could survive in a simulated gastrointestinal system for six hours, with the probiotic being released into the small intestine, and up to 95 per cent of the probiotic preserved.

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