Reaching Your (Bacterial Genetic) Potential

Potential can be summed up as untapped possibility, latent ability, and the almost realized talents that reside within us all. Even bacteria have potential! But bacteria aren’t on the cusp of writing a novel or climbing half dome. Bacterial potential resides in their DNA, and more specifically, the coding instructions called genes. Genes are the fundamental units of life that provide the blueprint for proteins to perform critical functions such as metabolism, growth, and development. Verb Biotics understands this and is on a mission to be a function-first probiotic, postbiotic, and synbiotic company guided by the fundamental principle to help consumers ‘feel the effect’. The inherent issue with traditional biotic ingredients is the lack of diversity and efficacy which has left consumers with bacterial strains that do not work for them (because ultimately these strains were not selected for them.) Verb Biotics is reverse engineering the issue with traditional biotics by targeting the function we need our bacteria to perform and using that as the foundation for building our products. It’s all about the mode of action (MOA) here at Verb, and it’s a game changer. 

What exactly is genetic potential and why does it matter? Every living, organic entity is chock full of deoxyribonucleic acid, or as we in the biz like to call it, DNA (shout out to viruses that use RNA!) There are four nucleotide building blocks that make up DNA and arranging them in a particular order creates a code that will ultimately generate a protein. That code is referred to as a gene. Depending on what organism you’re studying you could be looking at upwards of 25,000 genes in humans, or roughly 3,000 genes in bacteria. Genes encode essential instructions for building and maintaining an organism. In humans, genes contribute to traits such as height, eye color, and intelligence, while in bacteria, genes affect growth rate, resistance to antibiotics, and/or tolerance to environmental conditions. Genetic potential refers to the inherent capacity of an organism to develop certain traits or achieve specific levels of performance based on its, you guessed it, genes. However, it’s critical to mention that having a gene alone does not guarantee a certain trait, as many genes require the assistance of other genes to function properly; genes are also heavily influenced by environmental factors.  

Since Verb lives in the world of bacteria, it would be remiss not to speak specifically about bacterial genes and genetic makeup. Bacteria have one chromosome that houses most of their genes (remember humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes). Some bacteria have extra, shorter pieces of genetic material called plasmids that are able to function apart from their bigger chromosome. For comparison, a bacterial chromosome on average has 5 million of those nucleotide building blocks while plasmids have between 5,000 to 100,000 nucleotides. Together, the chromosome and plasmid DNA contain all the genes needed for bacteria to grow and replicate.  

Understanding what genes are and what they can do is awesome at a conceptual level. The next hurdle is sequencing those nucleotides and reading the code to determine what genes are there (or not there – no thank you botulism toxin!) This is arguably the most fascinating piece of the puzzle. Over the past decade, advancements in sequencing technology have enabled researchers to perform whole genome sequencing (WGS) of all bacterial nucleotides within days and at significantly reduced costs. Sequence technology has revolutionized genomics and brought new insights into complicated and intricate biological systems. It’s not only possible to obtain accurate WGS quickly, but with the advancement of bioinformatics, it’s also feasible to compare WGS to easily find known genes and their function. Once functions are assigned to the genes in an organism, it’s possible to determine a MOA for a desired effect. And as stated previously, it’s all about MOA at Verb. 

MOA is Verb’s end goal because that is ultimately how to make the biggest impact and provide solutions in the pro, post, and synbiotic space. When talking about MOA, it’s important to truly grasp what that entails. From a biology perspective, MOA can boil down to three sequential steps: target site, mechanism of interaction, and biological effect. The traditional way of thinking about MOA is outdated since it leaves biological effect last, almost as an afterthought. That’s where Verb comes in. Verb is thinking about biological effect (health state) first and working backward to understand what mechanisms are available in bacteria to alter the target site. We applied this function-first, MOA driven approach when crafting both of our current biosolutions: Keystone Postbiotic™ and GABA Probiotic (LP815™.)  By working backward from the desired health state, we were able to create ingredient solutions that help your consumers say, “I feel the effect!”. 

How do we know that these products are safe? Understanding desired function is essential for product creation, but there’s additional information gleaned from WGS that is just as crucial to generating a product. Bacteria have evolved numerous ways to defend themselves out in the big wild world such as harboring antibiotic resistance genes and making toxins. While these defense mechanisms/genes are great for bacterial survival, it’s necessary to exclude bacteria that harbor these dangerous genes. Verb takes care to meticulously comb through a WGS to ensure the bacterial strains are safe.   

Genetic potential embodies the untapped possibilities and latent abilities encoded in the DNA of all organisms, including bacteria. At Verb Biotics, we harness this potential by focusing on the mode of action (MOA) of our probiotics, postbiotics, and synbiotics. With advances in sequencing technology, we can now rapidly and accurately decode bacterial genomes, allowing us to identify beneficial genes and their functions. This enables us to isolate bacterial strains that produce desired effects, such as our GABA probiotic for mood and stress regulation. Our rigorous process involves screening bacteria from environmental samples, identifying their species, and performing whole genome sequencing (WGS) to ensure they are safe and effective. This meticulous approach ensures that our products not only work but also contribute to better health outcomes by leveraging the incredible potential of bacterial genetics. Verb Biotics is committed to revolutionizing the biotic space by putting function first, and our understanding of genetic potential and MOA is at the core of this mission. With each product, we aim to make a meaningful impact on health and well-being, guided by the remarkable capabilities encoded within bacterial DNA. 

About the author: Nina Wilson, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist at Verb. Nina has over 10 years of molecular and microbiology research in addition to five plus years of biotechnology experience. She is fascinated with microbial genomics and digging into whole genome sequences to determine product efficacy and safety.