Indibiome is the new black
Indibiome is discussed in my previous paper in Russian (link). Shortly indibiome is indigenous microbiome, like indigenous people, term is used below in the meaning «inherent to the media, localised and optimised for sustainable existence»).
Microbes have always been there, however technologies allowing efficient microbes manipulation and accumulated genetic and experimental data on variety of microbial communities has been on the rise only last decade. Below is my concept of interdisciplinary «indibiome bureau» and you are most welcome to give feedback.
Computer and electronics applications are designed starting from the needs: the problem is stated first, following solution is engineered as a sum of latest and cost efficient materials, elements, software libraries and existing devices. In the microbial world things are still working differently mostly — one finds outstanding microbial property (enzyme able to work at higher temperature, ability to bug off other harmful microbes etc.) and then tries to build an application with that one property. In terms of cause and effect — we first observe the effect and then try to manipulate cause (microbe) into any feasible application. This mostly produces solutions where the microbes are the main part, and rarely there is the sum of technologies, it is like producing microchips in new form factors, but not having proper mother boards or software developers kits aimed at using full potential.
A little notion of difference between microbes and indibiome in the context, indibiome is set of different microbes arranged in sustainable composition supported my microbial interactions. It is the microbes we have studied the most and a lot of these knowledge has been unbodied in the technologies, while microbiome understanding is far from complete, due to complexity arising from multitude of interactions. In terms of applications we normally use microbes for production: biodegradables, drugs (like insulin), food and alcohol fermentation etc. or as a source of new molecules for med- and bio- tech. Microbiomes (consortia of bacteria) are mostly considered together with the niche they occupy — gut microbiome and gut, skin microbiome and skin, lake microbiome and lake and so on, we mostly aim at solutions beneficial for niche when we try to tackle microbiomes, in other words the general approach is solving the problem of niche through adding, improving, manipulating microbiome in it. Great hint in selecting configuration microbiome could be indigenous microbiome of the area — indibiome, for instance a lot brands in vaginal care take inspiration in latest vaginal microbiome research (link to my Russian paper touching base).
First steps have been made in healthcare, as gut microbiome and gut appeared to be on of the fundamental parts of the human health, other directions are soil and skin — anywhere an open system aiming at sustainability indibiome solutions could be applied. Going further one might be interested in indibiomes of buildings, cars, clothes, pets. Wherever it would solve problems, for instance food production security using factory building indibiome or hospital acquired diseases protection using chamber indibiome, or making pet less allergenic.
Harnessing microbiome complexity only looks feasible with multidisciplinary approaches. Once problem related to the niche is chosen: bioinformatics and literature search will narrow down the search, molecular biology will be used for lab testing and manipulation, engineered systems modelling the original niche should be used (where through the ability of sensors the model could be digitalised) and finally microbiome should be delivered using approaches form material science. This could form even de novo indigenous microbiomes.
All the aforementioned facts lead us to the concept of microbiome design bureau. Industrial design and prototyping services are working like this already: one comes with the blueprints of electronic solution and a company designs a plate, designs and 3D prints the device shell, assembles a prototype and produces internal operating software or connects it to the cloud. But it all started with a problem to solve and some idea of how to make it. Late 2020 microbial technologies are not a rocket science any more, growing bacteria and cloning them are as available to everyone as buying microchips and tinkering, the solution can be piloted in few months type.
At the moment technology drivers here are academic institutions, mostly progressing as spin-off projects with main project scientists on board. This normally happens when the scientific group thinks of an application for the discovered effect and proactively pushes forward. While this is normal in areas like for example photonics where research is scoped for applications, in the microbial world this is still lacking. Potentially these academic advances in microbial science contain varieties of solutions to existing problems.
While the core of the solution will be coming from the field of microbiome even more exciting is the “coating”. Complementing pieces might come from:
Biodegradables — often serve as a vehicle for continuous delivery, materials can be designed for selective degradation by certain bacteria only and therefore act as therapeutical agent
Microfluidics — lab on chip solutions which already using bacteria as sensors or producers
Data science — like digital agriculture and soil microbiomes maps used for soil improvement strategy
Bioinformatics — can potentially design a new microbiome from bacteria with known genomes — so that enable completely new metabolic circuits
Fermentation technologies — fermentation processes can turn inedible food into nutritious and functional
The core expertise
The core expertise of bureau lies in the microbial applications i.e. understanding technological pipelines in variety of industries already using microbials. This would allow team to avoid industry based approach (i.e. only medical or oil mining) and apply successful ideas acres industries.
Cross-industrial team has to be engineer level rather then Nobel prize winners, as shown in introduction. Proficiencies of the team should include: microbial cultivation, fermentation, organic chemistry of biodegradables, medical devices, soil microbiome …
While core expertise think tank would scout for initial solutions, business developer should be able to estimate costs and market value, iteratively increasing precision as the pilot is carried out.
Marketing and IP specialist should be used as consultants from the first stages of product concept.
For the most part proposed microbial solution would not be blue oceans in terms of totally new markets, they would have to enter market of non-microbial solutions and show better efficacy. More to that sustainability ingrained in microbial solution should be used to gain the market:
like microbiome skin-cream would not only deliver nutrition, but create a new type of self sustainable skin microbiome, up to the point where initial create is not needed. New idea for the market is that you don’t have to be hooked up me many products for lifetime, you can create a sustainable system, which just needs tackling from time to time. Microbial systems recreated on your skin or in your garden as opposed to chemicals producing factories, storages, transportation.
Perspective markets to explore for solutions are skin care, vaginal flora, cleaning (home and industrial), fermented food products. In this areas team should gain understanding of level microbial and non-microbial solutions and unmet needs. Question posed here — if and how microbiome could change the process?
It would be wise to keep distance from medical microbiomes especially in the gut area as this field is extremely competitive, very strictly regulated, includes expensive human trials, and with longest time to market. The only plausible exception here is using combinations of microbes already in clinical practice and delivery options already tested, i.e. combination of approved techs is close to market. Markets on the periphery of the medical — sanitation, food and cosmetics are very marginal and tendencies there sustainability, ecology friendly, lean production and consumption.
Products on this market could have medically relevant “side-effects”: room cleaning compound might improve air quality or skin cream could help with skin diseases, those properties should be clinically tested as the product is maturing, naturally we would expect those to be with sustainable microbiome solutions.
After exploring aforementioned markets think tanks first goal is to propose microbial solution. On that level solution might be based on hypothetical microbial properties which are to be found in nature or tested in the lab. Complementary technologies serving for microbial delivery on this step might allow to generate market value and produce properties absent in rivals. Interestingly IP might be exact intersection of microbial and complementary techs. Over more through Bureau experience growing it would be able to implement similar solutions across projects — this is exactly the value of the Bureau — developing a framework for microbial application.
Scientific advisory board and scientific peers are next point of discussion for the solution. Using published papers, genetic data and human networks project solution is to be discussed, criticised and adjusted. One of the chances is getting a project specific scientist onboard in the project development process — this gives a marketing value, and those scientists would be able to stay when the Bureau part will be finished.
Next step is laboratory testing. For Bureau already running the best is to have own microbial lab, however first steps could be totally done through subcontracting, or working in a co-working laboratories available in the major cities. The result of the laboratory testing stage is confirmation of properties and pre-pilot checks, ideally confirming that unassembled product works in vitro and it is worth making a pilot.
What is needed for start
Team capable of initial preliminary work is needed. Work would include technology and market analysis, for the below proposed markets and solutions. 3-4 people able to analyse marketing, FMCG market, med devices, nutrition additives have to decide on the feasibility of projects in the areas proposed.
Tech-transfer, client orientation and continuous feedback
While creating microbial product team should keep track of possible corporate clients to buy out the technology and at the same time being close to final product user and tracking the focus group response. Next part is a trials, for some products trials are required (like food and cosmetics), however for others those should be done by Bureau to allow to compare efficacy compared to non-microbial solutions, if those exist.
Product prototype, design plan, production economics, marketing and sales plan, IP protection plan, trial outcomes — all this is the final stage of work in a Bureau. This technology is ideally licensed, sold or being co-developed further with corporate or VC partner.
Markets and solutions
Problem: inefficient probiotic delivery
Solution: biodegradable probiotic delivery system
Problem: printed caps and gum health
Solution: insole for printed caps with probiotics, (3D smile could be a great partner )
Problem: unsustainable effects of creams
Solution: cream containing new skin microbiome (SPLAT could be a great partner)
Problem: lack of food fibre in food
Solution: microbiome snack bar components (BITE could be a great partner)
Problem: Infections in the hospitals
Solution: Probiotic cleaning components for sustainable protection (PIP is already doing that)
Solution2: in-house reactor for cleaning liquid production