Nature and robot

Technology ushers in a new world of medicinal plants

Botanicals are and always have been part of the natural world
– but that doesn’t mean they should be immune to the benefits of technology, if applied in the right way.

Still, for some people nature and technology are dichotomous
– they don’t run well together.

These folks say nature is world-made, pure, beautiful and good; technology is human-made, badly motivated, ugly, bad.

Yet science and technology do not oppose the natural world, rather they are tools to better understand it and interact with it. Or as the 20th century German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg put it: “Natural science does not simply describe and explain nature; it is part of the interplay between nature and ourselves.”

This may be true but the rapid rate of tech-led change in the modern era has bred varying levels of what has come to be known as ‘technological anxiety’, which can develop its own momentum outside of how well understood the impact of a technology may be in socioeconomic or environmental terms.

VERTICAL FARMING RESISTANCE

And so it goes for vertical farming and the phytotherapeutic world, where resistance can come from some quarters – legacy industries like the traditional agriculture and botanical sectors that are legitimately threatened by vertical farming.

Even though those ag systems are themselves highly technological with the heavy use of farm machines, chemicals and satellites, younger alternatives like vertical farming will be cast in an anti-nature light because, for instance, no soil is required.

A system that massively reduces pesticides, waterway damage, tree hacking, soil depletion, flora and fauna destruction while massively raising crop yields and improving plant nutrient profiles is cast as somehow too technological, unnatural and to be resisted.

Such hypocrisy is rich.

It is not ‘technologies’ like vertical farming that threaten nature. This is technology giving nature – in this case crops and plants – the chance it needs to prosper in a world where traditional agricultural methods are failing and pose very real threats to the environment as we know it.

It is technologies like the following that are shining a light on botanicals progress…

BRIGHTSEED – AI targets ‘powerful small molecules for Health’

Close-up green leaf

In its mission to ‘reconnect people and plants’ Brightseed uses artificial intelligence (AI) to tackle the thorny issue of phytonutrient detection and verification in edible and medicinal plants.

Brightseed has plenty of material to work with as it is estimated only a small fraction – perhaps less than 1% – of the catechins, antioxidants and other phytonutrients that exist in plants have been detected and classified.

The San Francisco firm employs an AI platform called Forager to match phytonutrients with health conditions like metabolism, digestion, cognition and immunity and has attracted the interest of supplement makers Nature Made and Amway as well as food giant Danone North America to scrutinize their botanical supply chains.

“In many ways, this is reminiscent of the sequencing of the human genome, which powered massive innovation in health and medicine. Thanks to the pharmaceutical industry, we know a lot about the human body and its biological pathways,” co-founder and CEO Dr Jim Flatt told Nutrition Insight.

“However, we have been in the ‘dark ages’ when it comes to understanding how plant compounds impact these pathways. Forager is generating the world’s plant compound data, mostly from scratch, and applying this knowledge for human health discoveries.”

A recent discovery linked two novel plant compounds – N-trans caffeoyltyramine (NTC) and N-trans-feruloyltyramine (NTF) – with liver health and reduction in associated chronic diseases like type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

So far Forager has scrutinized some 700,000 plant compounds with potential human health benefits; by 2025 Brightseed seeks to detect and define the ‘entire plant kingdom’ of an estimated 10 million compounds in its Forager database.

With the Forager platform having ‘machine learnt’ decades of biomedical research, it is able to use botanical molecular profiling to match likely beneficial compounds onto human biological systems.

Powerful stuff.

BOTALYS – Vertical farming innovations better medicinal plants

beyond organic

While an operation like Brightseed seeks to map the botanical world’s micro-compound composition across hundreds of thousands of plants and millions of compounds, as a vertical farmer BOTALYS is able to devote itself to refining and improving select cultivars like ginseng.

Botanical molecular profiling and refining is a concept coded into the very DNA of BOTALYS from day one of its existence 10 years ago.

Over these years the molecular profile of Panax Ginseng cultivars grown in BOTALYS indoor vertical farms in Belgium has been refined to boost the health-giving nutritional profile of traditional, wild-cultivated ginseng without the environmental consequences of over-harvesting and contamination/adulteration risk from the likes of solvents, pesticides, mycotoxins and GMOs.

With the forensic input control and analysis afforded by vertical farming, BOTALYS has taken selective breeding to new places to ramp up levels of highly efficacious rare ginsenosides while maintaining the synergistic, full-spectrum adaptogenic benefits of wild-harvested ginseng.

BOTALYS botanists working in conjunction with ‘machine learning gardeners’ ensure the efficacy gains are matched by purity and standardized molecular profiles that have reached a level so high BOTALYS HRG80 Panax Ginseng powders have become an industry benchmark in purity and quality control.

This kind of robust standardization applies not only to the rare ginsenosides like Rg3 and Rg5 but to other constituents of the plant – sometimes known as the totum or its full molecular profile.

Employing a semi-automated process ensures total control over temperature, humidity, light and nutrients; resulting in sterility within the vertical farm and extracts that are pure and potent in profile.

Market analysis has shown HRG80 ginseng roots possess rare ginsenoside levels many times in excess of other ginseng forms (7x greater in 3rd party testing against popular ginseng products).

That’s vertical farming potential made real.

PHYTOSCOPE – Let AI do the phytonutrient talking

Services like Phytoscope from Pierre Fabre Group/Naturactive use AI to guide people to the best medicinal plants and phytonutrients to deliver particular health benefits.

With PHYTOSCOPE, users fill out a questionnaire relating to their particular health concerns, and are then given AI-driven recommendations via the AI-informed chatbot such as:

  • Rapid action with aromatherapy
  • Medium-term action with phytotherapy
  • Longer term actions for a rebalancing with a plant rich in phytonutrients

PHYTOSCOPE basically connects the seven main families of phytonutrients represented within the range (flavonoids, anthocyanins, phenolic acids, tannins, organosulfur compounds, carotenoids and caffeine) with specific health benefits.

In addition, the approach behind this tool responds to a rapidly growing trend in the nutraceutical sector: personalization. PHYTOSCOPE takes the user’s profile into account – that is, sex and age but also lifestyle, eating and sleeping habits, to provide them with tailored advice.

The phytonutrient recommendations were developed in conjunction with a committee of botanical scientists and dietary experts and Naturactive recommends getting a second opinion from a pharmacist on the PHYTOSCOPE guidance.

‘THE GREAT GROWLING ENGINE OF CHANGE’

Technology-driven advances like these should be celebrated for being part of, as futurist Alvin Toffler observed:

“The great growling engine of change…”

These ‘techs’ are helping fill the world with more potent, pure and environmentally-progressive medicinal plants dispensed to the right people at the right doses at the right time.

That sounds pretty good to us.