French food giant Danone wants to make its products more appealing to health-conscious consumers by going deeper into the hidden world of plants.
The world’s largest yogurt maker is broadening a deal with San Francisco-based Brightseed, a startup that uses artificial intelligence to uncover molecules in plants that have direct links to human health.
The partnership, which is expanding from just North America to include Danone’s global supply chain, is the latest example of “food as medicine,” a growing movement that intends to blur the lines of pharmacology, nutrition and sustainability. It comes as pandemic-weary consumers become more health-aware and plant-based foods enjoy an explosion in popularity.
“It’s unprecedented what is happening around the globe,” Taisa Hansen, senior vice president of research and innovation at Danone’s unit focused on nutrition, said in an interview.
The new three-year partnership with Brightseed should enable Danone to better understand plants from crop stage to the dinner table, Hansen said.
Previously, the companies were focused exclusively on soy, identifying seven potential health benefits through newly examined molecules, according to Brightseed. Beneficial molecules could eventually be incorporated into food and beverage products.
While clinical testing is needed to confirm the findings, Brightseed has said the discoveries have potential to overhaul how soy is grown in certain areas, how it is processed, as well as change how the oilseed is valued for health beyond what is already known regarding heart benefits. That could have big implications for both the medical world and producers of one of the world’s biggest agriculture commodities.
Brightseed, which has raised about $52 million to date, is attempting to build what it says would be the world’s largest plant compound library by mapping 99% of unknown or uncharted bioactives, also referred to as phytonutrients or phytochemicals. The startup refers to these as the “dark matter of the plant kingdom.”
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Brightseed announced in January that its AI Forager technology had discovered phytonutrients in about 80 common plant sources that outperformed known drugs to combat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The study was later published in Cell Death & Disease medical journal and the compounds are set for human clinical trials this year.