How AI Can Supercharge Our Food

By Lucy Stitzer October 9, 2023 | 6 MIN READ

The Dirt

Brightseed, a pioneer in biosciences and AI, understands the power of plant bioactive compounds found in fruits and vegetables. Their proprietary technology can isolate healthy bioactive compounds and make them into a supplement or add them to an existing food product to counteract common human health diseases.

Global Food

How AI Can Supercharge Our Food

Food Technology

By Lucy Stitzer October 9, 2023 | 6 MIN READ

The Dirt

Brightseed, a pioneer in biosciences and AI, understands the power of plant bioactive compounds found in fruits and vegetables. Their proprietary technology can isolate healthy bioactive compounds and make them into a supplement or add them to an existing food product to counteract common human health diseases.

“It is not what you eat that causes diseases; it is what you don’t eat that is the problem.” 

What is a Bioactive Compound?

If you want to live to be 100, a key strategy is to eat two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables daily. We at D2D wanted to know: WHY?

The answer: It is all in the bioactives – the keys to a healthy life. One of the most innovative advancements in nutrition is using bioactives – a group of naturally occurring compounds that significantly affect the human body. They are naturally occurring and are found most densely in fruits and vegetables. Now, with the support of artificial intelligence, nutrition researchers and technology can uncover and harness the full potential of these compounds, leading to better health outcomes for everyone.

You have heard of them. Terms such as curcumin, resveratrol, flavonoids, ascorbic acid, and even caffeine to name a few. These, plus thousands more, are tiny molecules that have an effect, usually good, on a living organism, tissue, or cell.  Compounds like these keep your heart ticking, immune system ready, muscles strong, cells rejuvenating, and diseases at bay.

Bioactives unlock specific receptors in our body that trigger a cascade of biological responses that can support our health at every level.”

– Jim Flatt, Co-Founder and CEO

brightseed, How AI Can Supercharge Our Food

Blueberries are truly a great example of a superfood, packed with a variety of essential bioactive compounds. Just a handful every single day have been shown to support cardiovascular, cognitive, and metabolic health. Hence the term, ‘superfood’. But you need to eat them for this to happen….

Their most notable compounds are flavonoids, a type of polyphenol, particularly anthocyanins, which give blueberries their distinctive color. Evidence has shown that these compounds are the ones that can support your heart and your brain. But that is not all. Blueberries are packed with antioxidants, which protect our bodies from damaging free radicals, thereby bolstering our immune system.

Quercetin and Myricetin fight against free radicals and support cardiovascular and overall health. Blueberries are also abundant in essential vitamins like C, K, and E, and vital minerals including manganese, zinc, and iron. Finally, blueberries contain dietary fiber. You can see why they are a superfood.

brightseed, How AI Can Supercharge Our Food

Though it’s crucial for us to get the multitude of health benefits from fruits and vegetables, sometimes we have to eat a lot to get what we need.  For instance, it is suggested that we get 500 mg of quercetin a day. But you would have to eat about 33 cups of blueberries to get that same amount as they have about 15 mg per cup. We singled out blueberries as a prime example, and my favorite fruit, but every single fruit or vegetable has its own unique family of bioactive compounds.

Plants not only give us food but also clothing, fuel, materials, personal care, and medicine. But we only know about 1% of all the natural plant molecules. The rest are considered the ‘dark matter’ of plants. But imagine if you had a database of the remaining 99% of all bioactives and their health benefits. Imagine if you could utilize artificial intelligence to match bioactive compounds with a solution to a specific human health issue.  That is exactly what Brightseed is doing.

What is Brightseed?

Brightseed, a San Francisco Bay Area startup, is on a ‘mission to restore human health.’ They are considered the pioneers in discovering bioactive compounds and developing innovative ingredients to fuel the proactive health movement. Brightseed is known for their novel and innovative approach using their proprietary artificial intelligence technology, Forager. Forager combs two databases to match a bioactive compound solution for a human disease.


Brightseed scientists begin by examining edible and medicinal plants used by populations worldwide. This includes mining existing databases and producing original data by sourcing specimens from around the globe to feed into Forager.  They then identify the plant compounds and load them into the Forager database. By 2025, this database will host the largest natural compound library in the world.

To date, Forager has mapped 4 million plant compounds – which is 40x more than what is known in published scientific literature – and has identified more than 30,000 predicted bioactives across 22 health areas. Built on their machine learning platform., Forager works in three parts: it predicts bioactive plant sources; it predicts the health benefits triggered in the body;  and it predicts which plants contain each bioactive compound solution for human disease.

Brightseed uses this computational intelligence to ‘illuminate the world of plant compounds’ at a much deeper level and much faster than human research capabilities.  Forager takes the guesswork out of where to begin for clinical research. As a result, the discovery time is 10x faster than traditional research, with a hit rate of 100x higher than pharmaceuticals.

brightseed, How AI Can Supercharge Our Food

What is in the pipeline?

Brightseed’s Bio Gut Fiber

For instance, the team at Brightseed will ask a question such as, “What bioactive compound can support a healthy gut barrier function?” After inputting the question into Forager, it searches for a match. In this case, Forager found a bioactive compound in the waste stream of hemp to strengthen human gut lining in order to support a healthy gut barrier function.

95% of Americans don’t eat enough fiber, so you may have heard of ‘leaky gut’? Digestion breaks down our food into nutrients to be used by our body to keep us healthy and strong. These nutrients are absorbed through the gut lining into our bloodstream. Think of a screen with very tiny holes. ‘Leaky gut’ is when those holes get too big and more than just nutrients flow into the blood, like bacteria or pathogenic organisms, neither of which you want in your blood.

Forager isolated two compounds: N-trans-caffeoyl tyramine (NCT) and N-trans-feruloyl tyramine (NFT). Why are these important?  They are bioactives found in Brightseed’s proprietary Bio Gut Fiber that gives integrity to the gut lining, helps fill in the leaky holes, and keeps the gut lining strong.

After further research, Brightseed created their proprietary Bio Gut Fiber that can be added to a protein bar, fiber supplement, or even a cookie that can support gut health if eaten daily.

Time to go to sleep

‘What bioactive compound can be isolated to help people fall asleep and stay asleep?” Sleep disorders affect between 50 to 70 million Americans. The older one becomes, the harder it is to sleep, especially for women. Many sleep problems are related to stress- thinking and worrying about the day’s events.

Pharmavite, a supplement company with the purpose of ‘to bring the gift of health to life’ wanted to bring a natural healthy supplement for restorative sleep to market. They collaborated with Brightseed to find a bioactive compound to help sleep and manage stress. Forager found 11 high-efficacy candidates for improving sleep and 16 for stress.  As of this writing, they are in the testing and trial phases.

This is not just limited to human nutrition. Harnessing the power of bioactive compounds can benefit industries such as pharmaceuticals, consumer health, food & and beverage, agriculture, personal care, and animal health. Some of their partnerships today include Danone, Pharmavite, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ocean Spray, Archer Daniels Midland, and Food Ingredients First. These partnerships are leveraging the power of bioactive to target chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, gut health, and cardiovascular disease.

Getting the Word Out

Brightseed is committed to raising awareness about the important role of bioactives in human health. They have formed a ‘Bioactives Coalition’ with food and health system leaders as advocates for bioactives. They would also like to educate on the scientific evidence to promote these compounds in functional foods, beverages, and supplements.  Their goal is to make them a part of everyday conversation and dietary guidelines.

“Technology and AI are revolutionizing the relationship between food and medicine, revealing the connections between farming practices, soil health, and bioactives as indicators of food’s nutritional value,”

– Ashlie Burkart, MD, CM Chief Scientific Officer at Germin8 Ventures. Associate with the Beifer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program, Harvard Kennedy School

Bioactives on the Plate

But if you are still unconvinced about eating your plants, here’s a snapshot of some additional research about why we need to eat our fruits and vegetables.

Cranberries: A study published in the journal Advances in Nutrition highlighted the potential health benefits of cranberries. A powerhouse of bioactive compounds, cranberries contain a myriad of phytonutrients, including phenolic acids, proanthocyanins, anthocyanins, flavonoids, and triterpenoids. These compounds exhibit potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can combat oxidative stress and inflammation – two underlying factors in many chronic diseases.

Black Garlic: A review article published in Molecules discussed the impact of black garlic and its bioactive components on human health. Pre-clinical trials have shown promising effects that black garlic can prevent several diseases. Most of these benefits can be attributed to its anti-oxidation, anti-inflammation, anti-obesity, hepatoprotection, hypolipidemia, anti-cancer, anti-allergy, immunomodulation, nephroprotection, cardiovascular protection, and neuroprotection.

Strawberries: A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences revealed that strawberries, particularly their achenes (seeds), are a significant source of antioxidants and other bioactive compounds, contributing to the prevention of inflammation, oxidative stress, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.

Tomatoes: According to a review in the Foods Journal, tomatoes are rich in various bioactive compounds, including antioxidants, which play a role in preventing degenerative diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, eye disease, and cancer. Tomatoes can also improve blood circulation, reduce cholesterol, detoxify toxins, reduce inflammation, and prevent premature aging, among other benefits.

The Bottom Line

The nutritional advancements in the food industry are always evolving, and it is truly exciting to see Brightseed’s potential by using AI to combine bioactive compounds and human health. And it extends across industries to make materials, energy, and medicine in a new and sustainable way, enhancing our overall wellbeing thus making society healthier, happier, and more productive. The future of plants is brighter than ever, and at D2D we are excited to see where this takes humankind.