Fruit flies and the microbiota
A new study from Australia found fruit flies actively forage for food with beneficial bacteria—they’re looking for a healthy gut flora! The study was conducted by the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and School of Life and Environmental Sciences, in collaboration with Macquarie University’s Department of Biological Sciences, and found the gut microbiota has a ‘significant effect’ on their foraging behaviour, and its influence can be passed to the next generation. The researchers found the flies foraged for the nutrients necessary for a balanced diet but also those necessary for a healthy gut microbiome—they actively searched for smells associated with particular beneficial bacteria in food. The researchers said the findings ‘warranted further investigation’ to determine how other animals interact with beneficial microbes in foraging. This is an exciting finding, not least because it opens new possibilities to study the relationship between how humans perceive certain foods and their potential health benefits. It’s possible well-documented food cravings could originate from the gut microflora attempting to achieve balance, and the study illustrates another way bacteria can influence the host behaviour—which ‘could be important in understanding gut microbiota and cognitive function in humans.’ As consumers become more interested in gut health and as research continues to elucidate this area, these findings could have interesting New Product Development applications.
‘Natural’ is a term commonly found on health product packaging, yet there is no legal definition for the word, and the industry risks consumer confusion. To determine consumers’ understanding, a review questioned over 85,000 consumers in more than 30 countries and found three key elements make a product ‘natural’; unsurprisingly, the first concern is the origin of the raw materials, with organic or non-GMO ingredients considered natural. The aversion to genetically modified ingredients continues as consumers regard products without artificial flavours or colours, preservatives or additives as ‘natural products’. Finally, a product can be natural when raw material processing has been kept to a minimum—the less an ingredient is processed, altered or tampered with, the more natural the end product. The review findings show for the majority of consumers ‘food naturalness is crucial’. These results correlate with findings from the 2012 Kampffmeyer Food Innovation Study, which showed over 4,000 consumers considered food naturalness ‘a decisive buying incentive’ and almost 75 percent perceived a ‘close connection between natural and healthy’. The 2015 Nielsen Global Health and Wellness Survey, involving 30,000 consumers, found the most desirable food attributes were ‘freshness, naturalness and minimal processing’. A clear definition of ‘naturalness’ would add transparency and clarity to the term, and as the definition varies between Member States, finding a single definition for the European market would be challenging but ‘of value to the consumer’.
This week’s cool science comes from the UK: a team from Rothamsted Research has successfully grown a genetically-modified plant to produce EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids on a commercial scale. As consumer awareness of the health benefits of omega-3s grows, the demand on marine sources increases; ‘farmed fish now contain significantly less of these fatty acids compared with ten years ago’. Although a GM source of omega-3s may constitute a marketing dilemma, there is great potential here for a more sustainable, more environmentally-friendly source of omega-3s. This would lift the burden on the marine supply and be a great alternative for vegetarians—the field is wide open for a plant source of EPA and DHA.