Inverse covers an invention that should invisibly make a difference in some of the world’s hungriest communities, beating back malnutrition-based diseases with super-tiny capsules of vital micronutrients:
Micronutrient deficiency affects almost one-third of the global population, but it’s a “hidden hunger.” That’s because, while a lack of micronutrients can cause malnourished people to suffer from ill effects like cognitive disorders and blindness, they don’t necessarily look starved.
Senior author Ana Jaklenec, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped invent this new micronutrient-delivering tech, tells Inverse that what makes micronutrient deficiency such a complex problem is that it can’t be solved by a single technical solution.
Often times, when fortified food and supplements make their way from the lab to the kitchen table, by the time people take a bite the bulk of micronutrients are gone.
To fix these problems, Jaklenec and 30 other scientists worked together to invent a microparticle-based shield that can keep micronutrients protected until they reach the mouths of malnourished people across the globe.
The researchers tested about 50 different polymers before settling on one polymer called BMC. Then, they encapsulated 11 micronutrients including iron, iodine, zinc, and B12 inside the BMC microparticle, which is slightly larger than the diameter of a single human hair.
Subsequently, the team fed the micronutrient-filled capsules to rodents and 44 humans. They also tested how well the micronutrients would be absorbed into the human intestine by implanting them into a model designed to mimic the intestinal system. Each trial showed that the BMC capsule shielded the micronutrients from potentially degrading factors like heat, light, moisture, and oxidation.
The study culminated in a high-profile taste test: Bread fortified with BMC capsules was served to Bill Gates in an effort to test whether or not he could tell the difference between regular bread, and their new super bread.
Gates couldn’t tell the difference — which was key. Preserving taste is important, Jaklenec notes. Even if the fortified food is available and nutrient-rich, if people won’t eat it, the problem persists.
You can read more about Jaklenec’s research here.