Dr. Zachary Abbott discussing Probiotics and Biotechnology in Health at ZBiotics.

Breaking Down Hangovers with Science and Safety with Zack Abbott of ZBiotics

Episode Overview

Episode Topic

In this episode of NutraPreneur, we get into the groundbreaking realm of Probiotics and Biotechnology in Health with Dr. Zachary Abbott, the visionary founder of ZBiotics, to explore the science and innovation behind the world’s first genetically engineered probiotic drink. This episode sheds light on how ZBiotics is revolutionizing the nutraceutical industry by leveraging modern biotechnology to improve human health. Dr. Abbott shares the inspiration behind ZBiotics, his journey from inception to founding the company, and the specific scientific advancements that set their products apart in a crowded market.

Lessons You’ll Learn

Throughout the episode, there are insights about Probiotics and Biotechnology in Health through Dr. Zachary Abbott’s insightful explanations. You’ll learn about the importance of transparency in the supplement industry, the science behind genetically engineered probiotics, and the specific benefits ZBiotics products offer, such as breaking down acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol. Dr. Abbott also discusses the broader implications of biotechnology in health, including how it can help address modern health challenges and improve overall well-being. This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in cutting-edge health innovations and the future of the nutraceutical industry.

About Our Guest

Dr. Zachary Abbott is the founder and CEO of ZBiotics, a pioneering company in the field of Probiotics and Biotechnology in Health. With a Ph.D. in microbiology, Dr. Abbott has dedicated his career to understanding and leveraging the beneficial aspects of bacteria to improve human health. Under his leadership, ZBiotics has developed the first genetically engineered probiotic designed to break down acetaldehyde, offering a unique solution to alleviate some of the negative effects of alcohol consumption. Dr. Abbott is passionate about transparency, safety, and innovation, making him a leading figure in the nutraceutical industry.

Topics Covered

This episode covers a wide range of topics centered around Probiotics and Biotechnology in Health. Dr. Zachary Abbott explains the inspiration and science behind ZBiotics’ groundbreaking products, the importance of transparency in the supplement industry, and the specific health benefits their genetically engineered probiotics provide. The conversation also delves into the challenges and opportunities within the biotech space, regulatory considerations, and the future of genetically engineered probiotics. Listeners will leave with a deeper understanding of how modern biotechnology is shaping the future of health and wellness, and how companies like ZBiotics are leading the charge.

Our Guest:
Dr. Zachary Abbott- The Innovator Behind Probiotics and Biotechnology in Health

Dr. Zachary Abbott is the innovative founder and CEO of ZBiotics, a pioneering company in the field of Probiotics and Biotechnology in Health. His journey began in Sacramento, California, where he developed an early passion for science. Abbott holds a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley, where he double-majored in immunology and classical art & archaeology. He furthered his education by earning a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from the University of Michigan. Before founding ZBiotics, Abbott gained extensive experience in clinical trial design, which provided him with a robust foundation in scientific research and development​​​​.

Dr. Abbott’s professional journey is marked by his deep commitment to leveraging modern biotechnology to improve human health. In 2016, he co-founded ZBiotics with the vision of creating the world’s first genetically engineered probiotic drink designed to break down acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism. This groundbreaking innovation addresses a common issue faced by many and highlights Abbott’s unique approach to utilizing probiotics for targeted health benefits. His work not only demonstrates the practical applications of advanced microbiological research but also underscores his dedication to transparency and consumer education in the nutraceutical industry​​​​.

Under Dr. Abbott’s leadership, ZBiotics has become a trailblazer in the nutraceutical field, emphasizing the importance of transparency and safety in product development. He advocates for clear labeling and consumer awareness, testifying before the California legislature in support of bills promoting transparency in probiotic labeling. Abbott’s efforts are aimed at setting high standards for the industry, ensuring that consumers are well-informed about the products they use. His work with ZBiotics not only pioneers new health solutions but also aims to foster a broader understanding and acceptance of genetically engineered products in the health and wellness sector

Episode Transcript

Bethany Jolley: Welcome back to NutraPreneur, the hub for unveiling groundbreaking insights into the nutraceutical industry. I’m your host, Bethany. Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Doctor Zach Abbott, founder of ZBiotics. Under his leadership, ZBiotics pioneered the first genetically engineered probiotic drink designed to break down acetaldehyde, the byproduct of alcohol that causes some of the next-day misery after drinking. Zach, it’s so great to have you today.

Zachary Abbott: Yes, I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Bethany Jolley: So first off, I think it would be great if you could just please share with us the inspiration behind ZBiotics and your journey from inception to founding this innovative company.

Zachary Abbott: Yeah. The true inspiration here was you as you said in your intro. We launched the world’s first-ever genetically engineered probiotic of any kind. I think the inspiration for the company was around the scientific idea that we could take a probiotic and engineer it to do something specific or provide some unique benefit for people. So I was just excited by that idea scientifically. Taking a step back, my background I have a PhD in microbiology. So I spent my PhD Some time doing research before that studying bacteria and how they work and many people my initial understanding of bacteria was that they were bad, that they caused disease. They made you sick. That’s true. But it’s only a small percentage of the bacteria that we interact with can make us sick. Most of the bacteria we interact with are either neutral or beneficial. As I learned more about all the things that are happening in our body and our environment, all of this stuff is being made possible by bacteria.

Zachary Abbott: I was excited to think of ways that we could leverage these positive interactions with bacteria to improve our health in some way. So that fundamentally was the inspiration for ZBiotics was how do we harness the good of bacteria in new and interesting ways using modern technology? Because probiotics have been around for a long time. But I think that to date, it was sort of people just scouring nature or looking at the leftovers of the food industry and saying hey, here, I hope this helps you in some way. Then we can sort of take that and refine that down into a very precise tool that provides a precise benefit. So when I looked around, I didn’t see anybody else doing it. So I thought, okay, well then I guess if I wanted to do this, I guess I’m going to have to do it myself. So that’s what the inspiration was for ZBiotics.

Bethany Jolley: Yes. That’s amazing. You said I think probiotics have been around for a while. People are familiar with the term probiotics. So navigating a competitive market, how has the biotics managed to maintain its transparency, its commitment to transparency and safety?

Zachary Abbott: Yes, I think that is how we differentiate ourselves in an environment that is very noisy. If you look at the probiotics industry, everything has a probiotic in it. There’s a lot of excitement around this as a category. So there are a lot of brands popping up that are throwing probiotics into everything. But what they’re doing is just taking bacteria that we know are safe from centuries of use in the food industry, largely in the dairy industry. Then putting putting them into whatever chips, soda, whatever whatever, whatever to make it quote unquote, healthier. But in reality, those bacteria are probably not optimized for human health. I think the most generous thing you could say is that they can help some people sometimes. But in reality, everybody’s microbiome is different, and their gut community is different in their biology is different. So there aren’t these kinds of silver bullet bacteria that can just go in and uniformly provide generalized health benefits to everybody, which is I think where the probiotic industry is currently sitting.

Zachary Abbott: So we use we took up we took one of these bacteria and then we engineered it to perform a very specific function. That function is beneficial to you. So the bacteria, the probiotic ends up just being a chassis for this function. So being transparent about that is that’s fundamental or essential to us, differentiating ourselves from all the noise out there, right? Saying hey, we used modern biotechnology. We used genetic engineering to make a product that’s better. That provides a very specific benefit. here, we can point to exactly what that benefit is. And you can evaluate for yourself whether or not you think you’re getting that benefit. So transparency is everything to us because it’s our unique differentiator in a very, noisy and undifferentiated field.

Bethany Jolley: Yes, absolutely. I think consumers are seeking out that transparency as well. They want to know what they’re putting into their bodies. They want to understand and educate themselves. So I think it’s great that you’re very transparent with your business.

Zachary Abbott: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s true across the board. I think we’re seeing this big boom in the supplement industry in general, which I think indicates that it’s a clear indication that consumers want to have more control over their health. They want to be proactive. They want to show up and choose things that are going to help them. They’re willing to do the research and learn about it. Now, whether or not the quality of the information they get is good or bad is still a challenge, of course. But people are out there and they’re trying to learn more. And in a way to learn more is making sure that, the companies are providing these products are hopefully giving you information and giving you good information. So, for instance, a few years ago, I testified in support of a bill at the California legislature to provide more transparency to probiotics labels to at least indicate what bacteria you are putting into the bottle at a strain level.

Zachary Abbott: So I think that ultimately there is a movement towards this Some brands are trying to do this, and it’s as with anything that comes with business, it starts to get tainted but the idea of making sure that we know what strains are in the bottle, making sure we know how much, how many CFU are in the bottle, things that. So those were the early things hey, we should have transparency around that. Then brands started to leverage that to warp the messaging and say that they had more CFU, which meant that was better which is not microbiologically speaking true. So there’s a lot of challenges and push and pull on this. But ultimately, I think at the end of the day, high-quality information is if you’re building a good product and you have a good business, then high-quality, you’re, of course, an advocate for high-quality, transparent information. That’s how we feel about it.

Bethany Jolley: Yes, absolutely. And you’re a scientific guy. So can you explain the science behind ZBiotics Probiotic and how it helps with those rough mornings after drinking?

Zachary Abbott: Yes, absolutely. It’s my favorite part of the job is talking about the science, for sure. So essentially what we did, as I said earlier, is we took a probiotic bacteria. So bacteria perform thousands of biological functions as just a normal course of their life. most or all of those functions are optimized for the benefit of the bacteria. So historically with probiotics, we give you this bacteria and it’s just we dig out of the ground or whatever, and we say here, eat this. Hopefully, some of those functions is performing will tangentially benefit you in some way, but we don’t know how and why and, or when, and it’s going to be highly dependent on what’s going on in your body already as to when and what they’re going to do. So we said, okay, well, let’s provide some, some sort of direction or specificity to that. So we took a bacteria and we engineered it to express one additional function in addition to all the other things it’s doing for itself.

Zachary Abbott: And that one function is meant specifically to benefit you. So in this case, with our first product that function was the ability to break down acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a toxic byproduct of alcohol. That initially forms in your gut then gets absorbed in your bloodstream wreaks havoc and creates some sort of those next day symptoms that you might feel the day after drinking. So the idea was that if we could engineer a bacteria to help you break down that acetaldehyde that forms in the gut before it gets into your bloodstream and wreaks havoc on the body, then that would result in you feeling better the next day. So you take our probiotic, it goes in and it does all the normal things it would normally do, which may or may not matter to you at all. But then in addition, it does this one thing that is breaking down the acetaldehyde.

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Zachary Abbott: And that, we thought would be uniformly beneficial to somebody who is consuming alcohol. So that’s the idea. So you drink the probiotic before you drink and that gets into your gut and starts making this enzyme that breaks down acid aldehyde. Then if you drink alcohol afterwards, as some of that alcohol gets converted into acetaldehyde in the gut the bacteria are there to help break that down. So that’s the idea. Then the next day you wake up and hopefully, you feel better, you feel otherwise.

Bethany Jolley: Yes. It is just such an interesting and unique concept. Concept. So how do you ensure that ZBiotics stays at the forefront of innovation while adhering to all of the rigorous safety standards and regulatory requirements?

Zachary Abbott: Yes, totally. I’d say, candidly or maybe a little flippantly that it’s not hard to stay at the forefront of innovation in the supplement space. There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the space. A lot of people, I’d say, are sort of pulling things off the shelf and putting them into a bottle and then putting a new brand on it, or sort of doing these quote-unquote, proprietary mixes and things. So there isn’t a lot of innovation for new ingredients or new functionality. So the idea that we’re using modern biotechnology to make a probiotic that does something new is innovative. In fact, it’s the world’s first. So look, I’ll be transparent and straightforward and say that what we’re doing is not particularly challenging from a technological standpoint, the technology that gives us the ability to make these products has been around for decades. It’s just that nobody’s been applying this in the consumer supplement space at all. So even that small amount of innovation puts us at the forefront. So a lot of what we do at ZBiotics is advocating for the use of this technology to bring the supplement field forward. It is into the 21st century, which is very much stuck in the 19th or maybe 20th century. And you brought up safety, which is something that is important to us.

Zachary Abbott: As I said, we use the very basics of this tech. The reason we do that is that we take a very conservative approach to the way we genetically engineer. There’s a lot we could do with this, a lot more than what we’re doing. In the beginning to stick with, the low-hanging fruit, the stuff we understand the best, the stuff that we know is safe. So, for instance, with our first product, we’re starting with the bacteria called Bacillus subtilis that you eat every day of your life already. It’s a very safe factory. It’s everywhere in nature. It’s a soil microbe. It’s all over fruits and vegetables and all of your kitchen and all that. We’ve been intentionally humans have been intentionally using this to ferment food for centuries. So it’s a very safe bacteria. Then we just engineered it to express one extra protein. This protein is called an acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. It’s an enzyme that your body already makes, that many of the microbes in your gut already make that 70% of all life on the planet already makes. So we’re combining two things that we know to be very safe and that your body is very familiar with. We’re just making sure that you’re getting enough of that enzyme at the right time when you’re drinking. So that’s all we’ve done.

Zachary Abbott: It’s a very simple and tiny step forward. Yes, it’s the bleeding edge of the supplement field. So we advocate for very conservative use of the tech because there are so many things we can do with very safe and restrictive guardrails I’ve just described not breaking any sort of evolutionary boundaries or going out into the wild and crazy Frankenstein world here. We can do some very basic things and create a huge amount of benefit beyond what already exists in the field. So that’s a lot of the work we do is we call it GEM or genetically engineered microbe, GEM safety. We talk a lot about setting up guardrails guidelines and best practices for the whole industry. Right now, our focus is on building a whole new category of genetically engineered probiotics that are the next level of product that provides unique benefits. We’re currently a category of one. We’re the only one in the world. So we’re trying to set guidance and best practices because this is going to be a whole category of other companies that are starting to work on this. So we want to make sure that there’s a pathway forward that is safe, responsible, transparent, and applied for the best possible outcome for people.

Bethany Jolley: Yes, absolutely. And you’ve already said that transparency and education are the core values of ZBiotics. So how do you promote the understanding of genetic engineering’s benefits to the public?

Zachary Abbott: Yes, I love that question. As I said before, it’s not just a virtue or value. It’s a, it’s a central or existential for our existence. That being transparent about the use of genetic engineering is what is what we’re founded on. It’s our mission. Is elevating the conversation around genetic engineering. I think a lot of people hear that here, GMO, and they think oh, well, first, probably your mind immediately goes to Roundup Ready corn Soy, right? that’s what a GMO is. It’s true that those are genetically engineered. However, that is one application of the technology. Fundamentally, the tech is just about bringing new traits to living organisms. So we’ve been doing that for centuries, millennia, and by selective crossbreeding, things that. So this is just a more precise version of that. It’s a tool. At the end of the day, it makes products and those products could be safe or unsafe. So it’s very important that we apply the technology responsibly, just as we would do with any technology. You can apply the technology of metallurgy to make a spoon or you can make a gun. Those are very different products, and very different safety profiles. So we talk a lot about the fact. So to elevate this conversation, I think it’s important for people to see that the technology results in products that they align with.

Zachary Abbott: So every bottle and box is the abiotic says probably GMO on it. We connect that technology genetic engineering to the benefit that you would get, right? So when I walk into the grocery store and I have a choice between GMO corn and non-GMO corn, there’s no benefit to me to buy the GMO corn, right? That benefit was for the farmer. But if I don’t know much about it and I’ve heard that it’s bad, I’m just of course I’m going to buy the non-GMO corn because why would I bother? I don’t even understand why that was done. But if I walk into the grocery store I say, oh, this probiotic is engineered to help me feel better the day after drinking and this probiotic, I don’t know what it does I want that benefit. So that benefit is made possible by genetic engineering. Then in that moment, we now have an opportunity to see that there are different applications of genetic engineering and they can be done for good. I think that the bigger vision, the bigger purpose for ZBiotics is around the fact that, genetic engineering can be used to do all kinds of amazing things that can that align with people’s values and can benefit humanity. They can help us feed a growing population of people.

Zachary Abbott: They can help us deal with emerging infectious diseases. They can help us combat climate change. There are many applications. This is a very important tool in our tool belt, and I think it’s being thrown under the bus by these health-washed companies that are making non-GMO potato chips because they’re non-GMO, they’re healthy for some reason, which is just there still potato chips. They’re still bad for you. So, unfortunately, it’s been this, lever, this marketing lever for a lot of brands, and it’s at the expense of a technology that is very important. So, they’re not advocating for the fact that every GMO is good, that’s not true. That’s not the case. Any technology is going to produce risks and challenges and products that maybe don’t align with people’s values. And that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean that the whole technology is bad. I think that’s our ultimate mission. So making products that people want and that they’re excited about and connecting that benefit to the technology, saying that the reason this product exists is because of the tech is a great way for us to at least create some elevation and nuance to a conversation that has been very much good or bad, or is it or isn’t it? So that’s been important to us.

Bethany Jolley: Yes. I’m sure you’re constantly navigating the challenges of public perception and regulatory landscapes. So what advice can you give to budding entrepreneurs that are in the biotech space?

Zachary Abbott: Totally. So I’ll say that first and foremost one myth I love to bust is that there’s a perception that everybody is anti-GMO because when you walk through the grocery store, you see this non-GMO butterfly everywhere. So you assume that, well, that must be what everybody wants. But in reality, if you look at unbiased surveys, the vast majority of people in this country are pretty much ambivalent, there’s a small and vocal minority who are staunchly anti-GMO. But I think that most of that, I can say is centered around some of the products that have been made with genetic engineering, and they equate GMO with Roundup Ready corn Soy. Then there’s a small percentage of people who are excited about genetic engineering. Then but the vast the big middle is people who just don’t care one way or the other and don’t know much about it. So when you ask people when I call somebody up and ask them about it, and we did a lot of consumer surveys and interviews and things to learn about how people thought about genetic engineering when we started the company. The most common thing I heard was I think I don’t care about it, but I think everybody else does. So you probably don’t want to talk about it.

Zachary Abbott: I always thought that was funny because it was like when am I going to meet somebody who says that they care? And even when I did talk to people who were we did surveys and we found people who were staunchly anti-GMO and they consider themselves well educated on the topic. Even when I talk to them, I said, to ask them where they got the information and and where their distrust came from. I say it was heavily focused on sort of agro-specific agricultural applications. Then usually they felt that there was room for improvement. In very few cases people feel that there was no opportunity for genetic engineering to provide a good benefit. So with all that being said, I don’t think that it’s as toxic of a disclosure to say you’re a GMO as everybody thinks it is. In fact, indeed, what we find is that it’s not at all a liability. It’s an asset. It sets us apart when we see that GMO label. If we advertise that in Facebook ads, we get lots of clicks, we get a lot of interest because people it’s provocative, it’s differentiated from what everyone else is saying. And it’s validating.

Zachary Abbott: People wow I know genetic engineering does something. So they’re more interested in learning what the product is. So I guess, one of my big pieces of advice is, is not I see that a lot of times I go to these conferences where companies are working on building new supplements. They’re bending over backward and twisting themselves in a pretzel to not use genetic engineering to get the same outcome. They’ll go and scour hundreds of thousands of new strains to try and find one that performs a function they want, rather than just taking an already safe and characterized bacteria and engineering that function in itself much safer, much more direct approach than trying to find some random, uncharacterized bacteria that happens to perform the function you want. You have to start from scratch and it’s a lot of extra. So one thing I would advise is don’t bend yourself backward and not use genetic engineering, just on the false assumption that consumers will outright reject any GMO no matter what. That’s ridiculous. It’s not at all how people work. They want products that provide them with a benefit. Then the other piece of advice I have is that if and when you do use genetic engineering, don’t hide it. I think a lot of companies that recognize the benefit of genetic engineering are afraid that consumers will reject it.

Zachary Abbott: So even if they use it to make amazing products that provide incredible benefits, they try and massage it or hide it or nuance it, which only further drives mistrust, right? It’s well, if you’re hiding it, then it must be bad. Why didn’t you tell us? So it’s sort of this, this self-fulfilling prophecy of fear that is reinforced by a lack of transparency. So those are some of the big uh pieces of advice I have. Then I’d say the last thing is that as you think about logic engineering, I think that with any technology, there are safe ways to do it, and there are ways you can do it responsibly. And building products are great. Then there are ways that I think, introduce undue risk. So we’re working to, as I say, develop guidelines and make it very clear and easy, what risks to be aware of and what things to think about., and I would encourage generally to research the field and talk to others in space, talk to us so that we can all get aligned on what are the best applications that improve the category, while also being in a safe sandbox.

Bethany Jolley: Yes. No, those are all great pieces of advice. I think embracing the benefits of genetic engineering could disrupt the market in a positive way. Given the unique positioning of ZBiotics in the market, what do you envision for its future? Are there any exciting projects or innovations that are on the horizon?

Zachary Abbott: Absolutely. So to be clear, I did not start this company because I was passionate about making sure that everybody felt better the day after drinking. That just so happened to be a great proof of concept, the first application of the technology. It was when I started the company, I didn’t anticipate that’s where we’d start. I just was excited about the idea of engineering probiotics for for benefit. As I started pitching ideas, that at the beginning, almost pitched as honestly, I was a joke. I was just ah, we could do anything. people got excited about that, and it kept moving up the list as I saw that people understood that problem. It was this very nice visceral readout so people could feel the benefit for themselves. So I started to say oh, this is a cool idea and it could provide a lot of benefits for people and all that. Ultimately, the vision here is about building a whole category of probiotics engineered to provide all kinds of benefits to help a healthy person live a life in a world where it’s increasingly hard for people to live a healthy life, right? We have a lot of highly processed foods that are engineered to taste good and hit all of our reward circuits in our brains but aren’t necessarily good for us.

Zachary Abbott: The air and the water are more polluted. But heavy metals and microplastics and all the things that come with the progress and advancement of the human race. So it just makes it harder and harder for people to live healthy lives so we can engineer probiotics that can help combat some of those challenges as toxic products that we can’t avoid in our lives. When our diets are far more difficult to regulate all things that. So there are many products in our pipeline. We’re excited to be announcing soon our second product, which will be launching in the fall. It’s different than the first one. That’s a completely different function. Related to everyday health. So we’re really, excited about that one. We’ll be announcing that soon, and there are several other products we have in our pipeline. I’ll say that, I unofficially or officially advised, several other companies that are also working in the genetically engineered probiotics space. So there’s a lot of exciting stuff, I think, coming in right now, it’s a category of one, but three years from now there will be dozens of products in this category. So I’m excited about that.

Bethany Jolley: Fantastic. Sounds like you have a lot of exciting things ahead this year and beyond. Even so, once again, Zach, thank you so much for sharing ZBiotics’s captivating journey, and for our listeners who are eager to explore ZBiotics further or to review their products, we’ve provided the necessary links. Do subscribe, drop in your thoughts, and join us in spotlighting the nutraceutical world on social media. Until our next episode stay informed and inspired in the vast expanse of nutraceutical innovations.