January 13, 2023
Brightseed's A.I., Forager®, Explained
If you’ve ever taken an aspirin in the throes of a headache or fever, you’ve unwittingly benefited from the scientific exploration of the natural world. Specifically, bark from the willow tree, where aspirin’s active ingredient, salicylic acid, was found two centuries ago. Even though salicylic acid was not isolated until the 19th century, the use of willow bark - and other salicylate-containing plants - have been relied upon for thousands of years to treat fever, pain, and inflammation .
The discovery of this active ingredient helped usher in an era of biomedical research focused on therapeutic applications for natural compounds. And by all counts, the effort has been successful. Today, nearly half of the approved medicines in the U.S. are originally derived from natural molecules , and the plant, fungi, and bacterial kingdoms remain major inspirations and sources for these products. Before the pharmacy, people relied on a healthy diet of whole foods, herbs, barks, roots, fruits, spices, seeds, leaves, grains, and saps for therapeutics. These natural medicines are still used today in health systems that pre-date modern medicine, such as Ayurveda, Chinese herbalism, and countless indigenous practices.
Thousands of plants are known to have health-promoting effects, including anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, pro-healing, neuroprotective, and pro-immunity qualities . And the driver of these benefits are natural compounds within the plant itself - also referred to as bioactives - which are aptly named for their biological activities within the body. More recognizable examples of these are the anti-inflammatory action of curcumin (in turmeric) , the antioxidant action of lycopene (in tomatoes) , and the anti-diabetic properties of β-glucans (in oats) . However, the benefits of bioactives are not limited to medicine and therapeutics, they are advantageous for human and animal nutrition, and personal care/cosmetics as well.
Although the world of bioactives is most studied in plants, they are produced by microbes, fungi, algae, and other microorganisms as well. Unfortunately, due to the historical challenges in isolating and understanding the impact of natural compounds on human biology, we believe that less than 1% of all bioactives have been mapped to human health benefits. This vast unknown can be conceived of as the “dark matter” of the natural world, with millions of potential bioactives yet to be explored for health benefits. And up until today, this area of science has remained largely uncharted because the technology to do so with efficiency, scale, and accuracy did not exist. Brightseed was founded to change that.
Leveraging recent advancements in computational biology, Brightseed created Forager®, an artificial intelligence (A.I.) platform that enables us to precisely map natural compounds with human biological pathways connected to health benefits. Forager is designed to map this expansive world of natural compounds at a speed, accuracy, and scale that was previously not possible. Already, Brightseed has mapped over 4 million compounds representing 40x more scientific coverage of plant molecules than what has previously been documented in published literature.
To enable this massive undertaking, Brightseed scientists are building the world's largest digital library of compounds sourced from plants and other natural sources. As the library grows, Forager’s algorithms sweep and mine the data to analyze each compound. Thanks to biomedical research, we know a lot about human biological systems and which receptors have the potential to activate different modes of action within our bodies. With this information, Forager is able to use its algorithm to predict compounds and their natural sources, as well as how the compound impacts specific biological pathways. After determining these forecasts, we then use biological assays to validate Forager’s predictions in vitro, eventually taking them to human clinical trials.
Forager’s deepening visibility into the natural world provides us insight into the connections between bioactive compounds and a number of critical health areas. Our first discovery included two unique bioactive compounds with the potential to support gut health, N-trans-caffeoyl tyramine (NCT) and N-trans-feruloyl tyramine (NFT). Recent preclinical research suggests NCT and NFT help support gut barrier integrity. Brightseed’s expanding research pipeline also includes weight management, mood and stress, cognitive health, liver health, sleep support, and glucose management.
To date, Forager’s discoveries have resulted in Brightseed having 72 active filings which include issued and pending applications, based on application, composition, methods, and derivatives, with more underway. With Forager’s predictions and scientific validation, the connections between nature and human biology are revealed at a much faster rate than previously possible in the food and consumer health industries. Perhaps most promising and motivating to Brightseed, is that we are making novel discoveries in support of human health. Forager’s discovery capacity helps remind us that food and the natural world have the capacity to deliver profound benefits if we only know where to look.
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