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Rebecca Lumley
2 Aug 2022

Artificial intelligence used to uncover ‘dark matter of the plant kingdom’

Brightseed uses its AI-enabled platform to detect natural bioactives important to human health, also known as ‘nature’s dark matter’ 

Brightseed, a US-based data company, says the natural bioactives it uncovers at scale with its AI-enabled platform are ‘basically gold that is often hidden in supply chains.’ 

The company uses its AI platform, Forager, to detect the natural bioactives present in plants with a ‘pharma-grade level of visibility’. Natural bioactives can be defined as small molecules that plants produce in response to their environment that interact with human biology. 

So far, Brightseed has mapped 1.5 million plant compounds using its Forager platform and raised $63 million in Series B funding. Speaking on the latest episode of the Vitafoods Insights Sustainability Series podcast, Brightseed co-founder and COO Sofia Elizondo explains how the company’s search for bioactives relates to human health.  

‘We know that the natural bioactives are critical for health - the largest and most comprehensive study on the impact of diet and longevity basically says that if you don't have plants in your diet, you're bound for a premature death. And it is one of the easiest things that we can do to change that. So, we know that there's something in the plants that is powerful for longevity,’ Elizondo explains.  

‘The pharmaceutical industry knows that it is these small natural compounds that are very powerful. Two thirds of small molecule drugs are derived from them. Aspirin, Metformin for diabetes - there's a lot of value in these small molecules, but the world doesn't know about them. And it's called the "dark matter of the plant kingdom." That's why we built Forager, so that we can see them and then predict what they can do for health.’ 

Elizondo explains that while agriculture has historically focused on yield, shelf life and the aesthetic of the food produced, little thought has been given to bioactives.  

‘We haven't quite optimised for bioactive content. And it turns out that agricultural practices, and the quality of the soil actually have a really important impact on the bioactives and nutrients that plants then can provide us as we eat them,’ she says.  

‘So, there is a golden thread here - what is good for the planet is actually pretty good for human health. And it can be really good for business too.’  

Brightseed describes its Forager platform as ‘the world’s largest digital platform that illuminates the interaction between plant bioactives and human biology.’ It is the only technology currently capable of predicting what compounds are bioactive and how they impact specific health areas.  

Elizondo explains: ‘Forager can see from a single plant, or a single plant sample, thousands of compounds - this is the dark matter. We go from tens to hundreds or even thousands of compounds. Then we can see how each of those compounds connects to potential health benefits. So, we end up with a web and, essentially, a branch of what a single plant tissue can do for health. And not only that, but we can multiply it for all of the plants that we're bringing into the lab.’ 

‘It's like a Google map of how plants can impact human health,’ she adds.  

Brightseed positions its platform as a tool to speed up innovation and de-risk clinical development. The company also has its own IP-protected pipeline of bioactives that positively impact health.  

Listen to the full episode - Brightseed using AI to tap nature’s ‘dark matter’ - on Vitafoods Insights. 

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