Bioscience tech company Brightseed has partnered with Danone North America to use artificial intelligence (AI) to better understand the health benefits of popular plant-based products.
Danone North America, the world’s largest certified B-corporation, produces brands including Dannon and Danimals yogurt, Silk alternative milks, and Horizon Organic dairy. The first stage of the partnership with Danone will focus on soy, according to a statement from Brightseed.
Brightseed uses AI to tie phytonutrients in plants to specific health outcomes. With Danone, they will identify unknown compounds in soy and predict previously undiscovered health benefits in the plant. Then, they will validate their findings through clinical testing.
“What we’re doing with Danone is illuminating the crops that make up the core of their supply chain,” Brightseed co-founder and COO Sofia Elizondo tells Food Tank. “If we don’t know that these valuable nutritious elements are in these plant sources to begin with, then it’s really hard to ensure that they’re present—not only in the raw material, but in the end product as well.”
The problem Brightseed is addressing is that an overwhelming majority of these plant compounds, and their specific links to human health outcomes, remain undiscovered. Due both to the limits of modern microscope technology and the sheer volume of plant phytonutrients to sift through, Elizondo says, illuminating this “dark matter of nutrition” has been slow and often impossible. Brightseed is building a fast lane of sorts, using AI technology to “leapfrog the need for a physical search,” she tells Food Tank.
“Without that knowledge, we end up processing these nutrients out,” Elizondo tells Food Tank. “We’re missing out on what nature has already provided. We intuitively know that eating plant-based food is healthy, but we can use technology to clarify why—and to make sure that we’re getting enough of it to make a difference. It’s marrying our intuitive wisdom with the best and the most cutting-edge benefits that technology can bring.”
In response to concerns that this data may encourage food companies to prioritize additives over whole ingredients, Elizondo reiterated that Brightseed is identifying and valorizing nutrients that already exist in food. The food and health paradigm, she says, should focus not on “free from” certain items but on “chock full of good stuff.”
Take blueberries, for example, she says. If we know what helpful antioxidants are naturally in blueberries, manufacturers can make sure they’re present not only in fresh blueberries but also in frozen blueberries, dried blueberries, blueberry yogurt, blueberry granola, and blueberry extract-based supplements.
“Let’s find what is in food that we need to put back in, and let’s put it back in everything,” Elizondo tells Food Tank. “In the fresh crop products; in the more processed packaged products; in the extracts, if that’s the way that fits with your lifestyle. We’re laser-focused on health outcomes—moving the needle on health and longevity in a very fundamental way. That’s the North Star.”
For Brightseed, the most effective strategy for creating a healthier food marketplace is through partnerships with larger companies, like Danone. They could have created their own line of products based on their AI discoveries, Elizondo says, but “we would be limited to the impact that only Brightseed could have and the consumers that Brightseed could reach.” Instead, they hope food manufacturers can use Brightseed’s technology to promote and produce healthier products.
“Humanity is very comfortable with using technology to manipulate,” Elizondo tells Food Tank. “We don’t need to manipulate nature to solve our problems. I think we can use technology to deeply understand [nature] and use its wisdom for maintaining our health.”
Photo courtesy Brightseed