How the Microbiome will Disrupt Multiple Industries

The human microbiome is the community of microorganisms and microbes such as bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on our bodies. Recent scientific research, trends and market demand related to the microbiome will impact billion dollar businesses in the pharmaceutical, healthcare, consumer packaged goods and food industries.

Neuroscience, Psychobiotics and Synthetic Biotics

Scientists and researchers are in the early stages of actively investigating the connection between bacteria in the gut and brain functionality. According to a recent study, certain gut microbes have been found to make brain chemicals and soon, results from clinical trials of psychobiotics, created from probiotics and prebiotics, will be available [1]. In the study, bacillus is linked to the creation of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, bifido-bacterium to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), enterococcus to serotonin, escherichia to both norepinephrine and serotonin, lactobacillus to acetylcholine and GABA, and streptococcus to serotonin. According to scientists in Cork, psychobiotics may be deployed within the next five years in the form of a pill or drink to treat mild to moderate mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression [2], which could dramatically impact the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.

Research is underway to treat metabolic diseases with synthetic biotics to reprogram the gut bacteria. Privately-held biopharmaceutical Synlogic, with $70 million in funding ($30 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $40 million from venture capital), aims to create synthetic biotics to treat metabolic abnormalities associated with diseases and genetic disorders with two drugs entering clinical trials in the next 12 months [3].

Today, human microbiome studies have been limited compared to animal research [4]. As more research becomes available, so will the potential impact on healthcare, pharmaceutical and medical industries.

Antibiotic Resistance

The number of deaths due to antibiotic resistant infections is an estimated 700,000 per annum [5]. The number of deaths could increase to 10 million per year by 2050 [6]. Antibiotic resistance is a growing issue not only for human health, but also for animals. The industries that will be most impacted by antibiotic resistance are food, livestock, healthcare, and tourism [7].

Antibacterials in Consumer Packaged Goods

The antibacterial chemical triclosan can be found in a wide range of consumer packaged goods including soap, cleaning products, toothpaste, cosmetics, deodorant, shaving gels, first aid, kitchenware, clothing, toys, and many more products. There have been studies that link triclosan with cancer [8]. Triclosan is a suspected endocrine disruptor [9]. Within the next 2–3 years, expect a rising trend from consumers to ban triclosan from products similar to the demand for BPA-free (Bisphenol A) consumer goods.

Microbiome Impact on Food Industry

The increase of research findings that link gut bacteria to production of neurotransmitters will create a pull-demand by consumers that will influence food manufacturers to incorporate probiotics and prebiotics in a wider-range of foods, including shelf-stable snack and processed foods. Today major food manufacturers make shelf-stable yogurt snacks aimed at baby and toddlers that can be found in all major grocery chains. Major yogurt manufacturers will extend their product lines with probiotic drinks, especially those targeting children, in effort to increase market share. Informed consumers will choose yogurt drinks with live, active cultures instead of plain milk, impacting the dairy industry. The global probiotic ingredients market is expected to grow to 46.55 billion USD by 2020 with a CAGR of 7.0% [10].

Within 2–5 years, expect greater antibiotic resistance in humans and animals, increased consumer demand for the ban of the antibacterial agent triclosan, the expansion of food products to include beneficial flora and clinical trials for new treatments using organic and synthetic biotics in healthcare. This is how tiny bacteria, in relation to the human microbiome, has the potential to make a big impact on multiple industries and create a fundamental paradigm shift in neuroscience.


  1. Dinan, Timothy G. et al. “Collective unconscious: How gut microbes shape human behavior.” Journal of Psychiatric Research, 2015.
  2. Ring, Evelyn.”’Psychobiotics’ could be used to treat depression and available within five years.” Irish Examiner, February 19, 2016.
  3. Matheson, Rob. “Reprogramming gut bacteria as ‘living therapeutics.’”MIT News, April 5, 2016.
  4. Sanders, Laura. “Microbes can play games with the mind.” ScienceNews, March 23, 2016.
  5. GlaxoSmithKine plc (GSK). “Turning the tide on antibiotic resistance.” The Telegraph, 1 April 2016.
  6. “Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.” UK government commissioned report, July 2014.
  7. Moodie, Alison. “How antibiotic resistance could wreak havoc on health, food and travel.” The Guardian, 14 March 2016.
  8. Yueh, Mei-Fei et. al. “The commonly used antimicrobial additive triclosan is a liver tumor promoter.” PNAS, Vol. 111 no. 48, October 8, 2014.
  9. Forte, Maurizio. “Triclosan and bisphenol A affect decidualization of human endometrial stromal cells.” Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, Volume 422, 15 February 2016, Pages 74–83.
  10., July 2015.

Originally published at on April 10, 2016.

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