Working with Athletes to Determine if Algae Can Improve Gut Health

Written by Embriette Hyde with Dave Schroeder of Triton Algae Innovations

When a baby is born, it receives its first source of nutrients in the form of colostrum. Colostrum is the very first milk produced by a mother’s mammary glands, and it chock full of antibodies and antioxidants. Colostrum is critical for the health and protection of the new baby, as it provides a rich source of immunity that will protect the baby until its own immune system matures (which of course is dependent on the gut microbiome).

Recently, there has been widespread interest in using colostrum proteins to improve health and immune function not in babies, but in adults! Triton Algae Innovations (tritonai.com) is a company in the Knight lab’s backyard-a start-up spun out of UC San Diego in 2013-that is particularly interested in the healthy properties conferred by colostrum proteins. Triton Algae Innovations produces high-value colostrum proteins from a platform of eukaryotic green algae, a well-known and comprehensively studied wild-type algae strain called Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.

If you’ve spent any time in a lab, you know that accidental discoveries not only happen, but can often prove more significant that the original hypothesis. Triton Algae Innovations made such a discovery in the course of refining the algae production platform for these colostrum proteins and running a series of safety trials in animal models using the wild-type algae (i.e., the normal, non colostrum-producing algae). These trials, performed across different animal models, revealed that the wild type algae was almost as effective as the colostrum proteins in reducing diarrhea and gastrointestinal inflammation!

This algae, which has been proven safe for human consumption by other groups, features an abundance of natural, healthy, and nutritionally impactful components, including:

*        high levels of easily digested protein;

*        excellent source of Omega fatty acids and oils;

*        rich in Vitamin A, B-carotene, chlorophyll and iron

Given the statistically significant and compelling results observed in their animal studies, Triton is eager to better understand whether similar positive effects of this algae can be realized in the gut microbiome of humans, and recently approached the Knight lab-and the American Gut Project-with a compelling idea. We of course listened with eager ears, given our intimate work with the gut microbiome and its relationship with human health and disease, and our goal to research as many different topics in the field as we can.

Dave Schroeder explained to us that Triton is planning a consumption study of this algae in two human cohorts that have been of great interest to the Knight lab and the American Gut Project-athletes, and people with a history of IBS/IBD-type symptoms. As Triton’s major goal is to assess the effects of the algae on human gut health, a microbiome assessment is naturally a major aim of the study.  Participants will consume a small serving of this algae once a day for 30 days. Samples of the individual microbiomes will be collected before starting the trial, on the seventh day of the trial, and at the end of the trial. Dave indicated that he would love to work with the Knight lab to sequence the stool samples collected from trial participants, and enthusiastically accepted our suggestion to allow these samples to enter the American Gut Project cohort. Specifically, we see this project as a great way to further our existing collaboration with UCSD athletics. Through this study, not only will Triton be able to determine if the algae has positive effects on athletes’ gut health, but American Gut will be able to collect even more microbiome data on athletes, growing an already existing, exciting cohort.

We are in the process of writing protocols for institutional review board approval and hope to begin collecting samples in March or April of this year.

If you are interested in hearing more about this trial or think you might be interested in participating in this trial, please contact Dave Schroeder at dave@tritonai.com