Nutrition

Background

The microbiome is fundamental to both health and disease

Some 30 years ago Dr Andrew Morgan got involved in studying the microbiome and he has played an important role in the development of DuPont’s microbiome platform. Even as a schoolboy he was inspired by the emerging field of modern biology when he read the book ‘What is life?’ by Erwin Schrödinger.

“When I first became involved in working with enzymes for animal nutrition back in the late 1980s, there was hardly any understanding of the interaction between nutrition, the microbiome, and the gut and immune function of either animals or humans. In fact, the term “microbiome” wasn’t used at the time. The discipline of nutribiosis, as we call it now, was still in its infancy. Since then, we have come a long way and we have been amazed by the interactions between the microbes that live in the gut and the host physiology that maintains a healthy or homeostatic state,” says Dr Andrew Morgan.

Photo: Dupont
Photo: Dupont

He gave a presentation during the recent first conference of World Rising Nutritionists 2019 in Lisbon, providing deep knowledge into the science around the three pillars of nutribiosis, namely nutrition, microbiome, and gut and immune function. “The gut is the main reservoir of microbes in the body, with about 30% of ­metabolites in the bloodstream originating from the gut microbes and so it should not be too surprising that gut microbes have a strong relationship with health.” Dr Morgan continues: “Microbes make us what we are: ultimately all living organisms evolved from microbes and have learned to co-exist with them. In humans tens of trillions of microbes populate our bodies, both inside and out. The composition and behaviour of bacteria in the gut is critically ­important for human and animal health.”

“At the start of my involvement in the then nascent field of the way enzymes affect animal nutrition in 1989, I started by reading the scientific literature available to get a better understanding of animal nutrition and the potential role that enzymes could play in animal nutrition and health. At the time, there were three theories of how enzymes might affect animal nutrition. One was based on a correlation between viscosity in the gut and performance; another suggested that enzymes degrade the cell walls of feed materials and release additional nutrients and the third – my own theory – was that enzymes had an influence on the composition of the gut microflora. That’s when we started to work on testing these hypotheses and today we know that they were all correct.”

Profile
Dr Andrew Morgan is a DuPont Fellow at DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences and was Chief Scientist for the DuPont Nutrition & Health and legacy Danisco businesses for over a decade. He is involved in both the human and animal nutrition sides of the business. Dr Morgan has an impressive career, starting at BP Research, BP Nutrition (= Nutreco today), Finnfeeds and then moving on to Danisco and now DuPont. Dr Morgan has a First Class Honours Degree in Biochemistry and is a Doctor of Philosophy in Microbial Biochemistry & Genetics (University of Sussex).

“From that time onwards knowledge and developments really shifted into top gear. In the early 1990s we focused on enzymes that degrade NSP for animal nutrition and over time we built the tools needed to study the different mechanisms of action including DNA-based methods for monitoring shifts in the gut microflora (microbiota) composition. By the mid-1990s we were able to clearly demonstrate that NSP-hydrolysing enzymes depolymerise high molecular weight arabinoxylan and betaglucan substrates, thus generating small polymers and oligosaccharides; the result was a favourable shift in the microflora/microbiota composition. By the early 2000s we had built a health and nutrition toolbox (Enteromix), including GI tract simulation and cell line models that supported our research and development for both human and animal applications. We have added substantially to these in recent years, including models from metagenomics, metabolomics and bioinformatics. That knowledge platform really showed its value when we started to work on probiotics in the mid 2000s. With our health & nutrition platform, as well as leading manufacturing and formulation capabilities, we were able to develop state-of-the-art probiotic science and technology which supports the development of a substantial portfolio of products and that is what brought us to where we are today. DuPont has a very strong position in enzymes, fibres, prebiotics and probiotics.”

Dr Morgan continues: “And we’re not done; we’re focusing on the future. Our platform is now designed to produce next-generation probiotics and other kinds of microbiome modulator. We have established a Microbiome Venture to develop new human microbiome solutions, but that knowledge is also readily transferable to the animal side of the business. A lot of research is being done on next-generation probiotics and on molecules that modulate the microbiome. We are especially building on our strengths in Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics, where today we have an industry leading portfolio of scientifically documented strains. In humans, we are tailoring solutions to certain health conditions and age criteria, including solutions for early life when the microbiome is just getting established in the infant. In fact, we already have probiotic offerings for early life that build on over a decade of research and recently we launched a human milk oligosaccharide (HMO) product; HMOs present in breast milk play an important role in shaping the infant microbiome.

“Giving good bacteria the upper hand over the bad is the reason why we launched our microbiome venture in 2017 to shape a whole new range of solutions. We know that the diet we eat and our lifestyle is essential to health, but when things go wrong with the microbiome – so-called “dysbiosis” – we want to find solutions that help shift the balance back towards homeostasis. This is a long-term endeavour, but we are one of a very few companies with the full range of capabilities needed to succeed. The expectation that we will be able to prevent disease and support health in both humans and animals by influencing the microbiome in a far more targeted way is both promising and exciting.

As a bonus, it will help to solve the rise of antimicrobial resistance as well, because, with greater understanding of the microbiome, alternative more targeted solutions will emerge and the need to use antibiotics will decline. If one looks at it in a holistic way, one can conclude that microbiome science holds the promise of fundamentally new solutions designed to support health and prevent disease that will beneficially impact both animal and human health and nutrition for years to come.”