What are peptides?

Peptides are naturally occurring biological molecules that are typically fragments of larger proteins, which we take in as food or exist already in the body. Most of the physiological activities of the proteins within us are performed by bioactive peptides that become active when the protein is broken down by enzymes. Bioactive peptides are found across biology in all living organisms and they play key roles in a wide variety of biological processes. Nature remains the largest source of bioactive peptides since plants, animals, fungi, microbes and their products contain proteins that can yield bioactive peptides. In the human body, peptides are found in every cell and tissue and perform a wide range of essential functions. Keeping appropriate concentrations and activity levels of bioactive peptides in the body is essential for maintaining our health.

Bioactive peptides and the proteins from which they are derived are made of building blocks called amino acids and the function that a peptide carries out depends on both the types and sequence of the amino acids involved, as well as the specific shape of the peptide. One of the most important functions that bioactive peptides play is as the body’s own communications system. Peptides are vital signaling molecules that allow instructions to be relayed across long distances in the body.

This peptide signaling system helps the body maintain proper functioning and prevent disease. For example, many of the hormones in our body are peptides such as insulin, growth hormone, oxytocin and endorphins. For a peptide to exert its signaling effects, it needs to bind to a receptor (usually a larger protein) specific for that peptide and that is located in the membrane of relevant cells. Upon activation of the receptor by the peptide, the cell is instructed to perform (or cease) specific biological functions to keep the body’s systems in balance.

Beyond their signaling function bioactive peptides have long been used to treat disease when that balance is disrupted; examples include antidiabetic peptides, cholesterol-lowering peptides, antihypertensive peptides, anticancer peptides and antimicrobial peptides. One of the most attractive aspects of using bioactive peptides, particularly food derived peptides, as therapies is their safety. They are known for their high tissue affinity, specificity and lack of side effects. For this reason, the search for food-derived bioactive peptides has increased exponentially of late.

We can create mixtures of bioactive peptides (hydrolysates) from natural food sources by either breaking down the food with enzymes (hydrolysis) or by using bacteria (fermentation). Alternatively, we can synthetically manufacture individual bioactive peptides, which is how peptide drugs are made (e.g. insulin). Historically, many food hydrolysates or peptide mixtures made this way have shown biological effects, however, their components were unknown. Nuritas has developed an AI-enabled technology to solve that problem and we can now identify and characterize the most important bioactive peptides in food with great specificity.

Bioactive peptides from foods are valuable functional agents in healthy diets that can prevent and treat diseases. The Nuritas Peptide Finder technology (N𝛑𝛟™) can now unlock the vast potential of the bioactive peptides in food to provide almost limitless health solutions.