27 Aug 2019 Hangover-alleviating probiotic hits US market
ZBiotics, a genetic engineering company in the US focused on consumer health, has launched the first genetically-engineered probiotic aimed at preventing hangovers.
Zbiotics is a “functional beverage” designed to break down an unwanted byproduct of alcohol – acetaldehyde – that is associated with the rough feelings the day after drinking.
The launch of ZBiotics marks a landmark advancement in the field of biotechnology applied to probiotics: “We are only scratching the surface,” company Co-Founder/CEO and PhD microbiologist Zack Abbott, told NutritionInsight.
Tackling the problem with nature
ZBiotics looked to nature to find the best way to break down acetaldehyde in the body, inspired by both the liver and bacteria. The human liver undergoes a two-step process to break down alcohol: first, it turns alcohol into acetaldehyde which then gets broken down into acetate, a benign chemical similar to vinegar.
However, not all alcohol makes it to the liver; some stays in the gut where microbes fail to complete the two-phase process. The lack of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase in the gut – the enzyme used to break down acetaldehyde – is the main culprit for acetaldehyde buildup in the body, according to ZBiotics.
However, ZBiotics found that you cannot place the enzyme directly in the body without it being destroyed in the stomach. The solution came in probiotics, which have evolved to resist being digested. In addition, the selected bacteria B subtilis had another useful evolutionary feature – the ability to pickup DNA and incorporate it into their own.
A new application for a billions-year-old process
While ZBiotics is blazing trails in the field of probiotics and functional beverages, it does not claim to use any new techniques.
ZBiotics’ patented strain of probiotics, B subtilis ZB183, was designed using homologous recombination, a process which has been used for decades to make cheese, insulin and veggie burgers.
Using homologous recombination, the company engineered B subtilis to identify the DNA which leads to the breakdown of acetaldehyde in the liver and then replicate that process in its own DNA. “Bacteria have naturally evolved and refined over the last three billion years the ability to edit their own DNA on a continual basis,” says Abbott.
ZBiotics is currently not required to label the product as a GMO. However, Abbott promises, “we absolutely will prominently label it as a GMO, because we are very proud of the fact that it is genetically engineered. The genetic engineering is what allows the bacteria to create an enzyme similar to the one your liver creates to break down acetaldehyde. No one has ever used this level of technology to address this challenge before.”
ZBiotics spent two years testing the product for safety and efficacy before launching.
ZBiotics is fully FDA-compliant for safety and adheres to all regulatory requirements for sale in the US.
“Drink like there’s tomorrow”
Abbott avoids calling ZBiotics a cure for hangovers because it’s more complex than that. Alcohol affects your sleep, leads to mild dehydration, in addition to the obvious intoxication. ZBiotics encourages consumers to stay responsible while also embracing its tagline, “Drink like there’s tomorrow”.
As functional beverages come on the market with bacteria “hacked” to meet our demands, what will it mean for the world of nutrition?
Giving power to consumers to regulate their own microbiomes with the precision of enzyme-producing probiotics is a new paradigm we live in.
“Whether they are promoting increased levels of nutrient absorption or helping break down environmental toxins, the enhanced probiotics we are building will provide consumers with new health-promoting functionalities that are only possible thanks to genetic engineering,” concludes Abbott.
ZBiotics is now available anywhere in the US from its website. The probiotics come in three, six and twelve-packs ranging from $9-$12 per bottle.