Microorganisms as health and lifestyle products

Teaser_Plant breeding: a key technology in the bioeconomy

An article by Professor Christine Lang, BELANO medical AG

We are familiar with the idea of microorganisms in food products in particular: for example, healthy bacteria in yoghurt, cheese, beer or sauerkraut. However, numerous probiotic articles – some featuring very vague promises about their effects – are also on offer at chemists and pharmacies.

Over the past ten years, this awareness of generally healthy microorganisms has sparked a wide range of research into the "probiotic effect". This has led to a deep understanding of the world of "healthy bacteria" and to the words "microbiota" and "microbiome" being coined. These terms refer to the community of all microorganisms in and on our bodies which, as we now know, play a key part in determining our health and our wellbeing.

Lactobacilli, a group of lactic acid bacteria, attracted particular attention and have been examined for their positive characteristics.

The most important metabolic product generated by lactobacilli is lactic acid, which plays an important role in protecting our gut. Bacteria such as L. acidophilus and L. brevis create an acidic environment in the gut that prevents the growth of pathogens like salmonella and E. coli bacteria. Lactic acid bacteria also build the intestinal barrier we need by joining forces with the bacterial community to feed bacteria that form butyric acid (such as eubacteria), which in turn are responsible for maintaining an intact intestinal wall. 

Thanks to microbiome research, we now know a great deal about how the bacteria interact with one another and with the human organism. Their effects go much further than "simply" helping our digestion. For instance, having a healthy microbiome is (partly) responsible for the health of our skin, our mouth, our gut – and even our mood! Extensive research has taught us how much our health and wellbeing depend on a "healthy" microorganism community.

New products are now showing that we can even use balancing microorganisms and their metabolic products to keep our microbiome in a state of healthy equilibrium. Furthermore, they allow us to find new treatment and prevention options that do not involve antibiotics. For example, using broad-based screenings, we have been able to identify and characterise strains of lactic acid bacteria that attack individual pathogens in a highly specific manner:

They are able to dock onto the pathogens, bind them into clumps and remove them from the body or the skin. Among other things, this is done to combat the gastric bacterium Helicobacter pylori.

People suffering from neurodermitis or acne have the inflammatory bacterium Staphylococcus aureus in their skin flora, which prevents the skin from healing. From a lactic acid bacterium, we were able to extract an active ingredient for use in medical skin care. This helps restore the skin's healthy microbiome so that the inflammatory reactions are interrupted.

Further products are being developed: for targeted blocking of the Streptococcus pathogen for instance, which is responsible for pharyngitis, and for the removal of Staphylococci – MRSA that are resistant to antibiotics. Ignored for decades, many bacteria have now been found to be natural biobased active ingredients for health and lifestyle products.