What the body needs is fiber, a nutrient found in vegetables, whole grains, and fruits that helps regulate bowel movements and lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Just about 5 percent of Americans Get the recommended daily amount of fiber, which is about 30 grams per day.

The enzyme that Xia is developing comes from a family called enulosucrases, and is made from a strain of bacteria naturally found in the human microbiome that is capable of converting sugar into fiber in the intestinal environment. Is. This enzyme acts on sugar before it is broken down and absorbed in the body. It works by rearranging sugar molecules into inulin fiber, a type of soluble fiber found in plants such as chicory root that promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

In the human intestine, the enzyme is not expressed in amounts to be useful. In addition to increasing its production, Zya has modified the enzyme to improve its stability and performance in the GI tract.

In lab experiments, the researchers added the enzyme to table sugar in human intestinal models, and also tested real food products with the enzyme in these systems. They found that the enzyme could convert up to 30 percent of the sugar present into fiber. They also added the enzyme to food and fed it to pigs, which have a human digestive system.

Using a small tube called a cannula, the researchers took samples from the pigs’ small intestine. Sauer says they have seen “significant and meaningful levels of sugar-to-fiber conversion” compared to pigs fed a diet that did not contain the enzyme, but they are still testing to determine the exact dosage. are The company also plans to test the enzyme in people.

So far, Zya has raised £4.1 million (a little over $5 million) in venture capital over two financing rounds: a seed round led by Astanor Ventures in 2022 followed by another round from Better Ventures in 2023.

Sauer hopes to launch its product, called Convero, in the U.S. in 2026, aiming to move into dry food products first. He says food manufacturers are already interested in using it as an ingredient. But first, Xia must get the enzyme approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Enzymes are not listed on a food product’s Nutrition Facts panel, so the companies that make them are subject to regulatory approvals, says Wendelin Jones, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based public health nonprofit for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences. Will need to work together. Experts on how to label foods that contain them and how to list them as ingredients.

“When the product moves from the laboratory to the table, the company will need to define how they want to label the product,” she says. For example, if Zia wants to make a health claim about its enzyme, it must provide the FDA with evidence to back up the claim.

Zya isn’t the only one pursuing this kind of technology. American food company Kraft Heinz – best known for its macaroni and cheese and condiments. Working with the Wyss Institute at Harvard University to produce similar enzymes.

Taylor Wallace, CEO of ThinkHealthy Group, a food science consulting firm, sees great potential in these types of enzymes. “It’s a great idea,” he says. “We’re not going to stop people from eating cookies. We can encourage them to moderate, but we’ve basically been preaching the dietary guidelines since the early ’80s and nothing’s changed. We’re just fat. We’re just less healthy.

Pigs are a good place to start with testing, Wallace says, but animal results don’t always translate to humans.

He doesn’t think any one product will be a magic bullet for the obesity problem, but he sees the zea enzyme as one of many technologies that could lead the population to a healthier state.

Mark Hobb, professor of food, nutrition, nutrition and health at Kansas State University, agrees. “It could be a viable tool to help people make food choices,” he says. “If there’s a way to let people eat what they normally do but make it healthier, that would be great.”