Research project

Discovering the effects of pulses through the gut microbiome and bioavailability of bioactive compounds

Related toSpoke 04

Principal investigators
Paola Vitaglione,Danilo Ercolini,Luisa Cigliano

Other partecipantsFrancesca De Filippis, Silvia Tagliamonte, Roberto Marotta, Gaia Anastasia, Francesca De Palma
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Task involved

Task 4.3.2.

Identification of nutrient and non-nutrient food components (and their metabolic products) potentially involved in the promotion of consumer health, and evaluation of their bio accessibility, bioavailability, and effect on the gut microbiota, using in silico, in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo approaches on humans/animals to confirm the actual absorption and bioactivity of non-nutrient components also considering specific dietary patterns and target groups.

Task 4.3.3.

Evaluation of food-human interactions following the events occurring in the gastrointestinal milieu by both in vitro and in vivo approaches and elucidation of the impact of new foods and corresponding benchmarks.

Project deliverables


Evaluation of the bioavailability and bioactivity of at least two components of foods proven to directly impact human health (M36)


Identification of novel food-derived compounds (and their metabolic products) in human body fluids/tissues that are associated with a putative bioactivity and/or a possible health effect (M30)


Elucidation of the interaction between the selected foods (and benchmarks) and the intestinal milieu (M30)


Evaluation of the impact of relevant new foods on microbial ecosystem and host response (M36)

State of the art

Dietary guidelines from several organizations recommend increasing legume consumption and reducing red meat and derived products. Epidemiological studies indicate a possible association between higher legume consumption and decreased risk of colorectal adenoma and coronary heart disease; the evidence of a protective role of legumes towards cardiovascular diseases is less strong (Martini et al., 2021). Some randomized controlled trials indicate that pulses could modify cardiometabolic risk showing a favorable effect on glucose metabolism, lipid profile, body weight, blood pressure, inflammation and antioxidant status (Becerra-Tomás et al., 2019). The knowledge on physiological mechanisms underpinning health benefits is scarce. Although pulses contain nutrient and non-nutrients bioactive compounds, the interactions of this food with gut microbiome and the bioavailability of the specific bioactive compounds are underexplored in vivo. 

Operation plan

The research will include the following activities: 
1) design and development of a randomized controlled trial in a selected cohort of people who will be assigned a personalized diet enriched with pulses (by replacing meat products) or a control diet;
2) collection of blood, urines and feces, anthropometric measures, and dietary data at specific time points;
3) analysis (through metabolomics and metagenomics) of the biological samples to evaluate the metabolic and physiological effects of the diet by monitoring circulating/excreted bioactive compounds (nutrients and non-nutrients) and their metabolites (also including gut microbial metabolites), clinical markers, mediators of body systems’ activity and communication and gut microbiome changes;
4) in vitro study using a Simulator of Human Intestinal Microbial Ecosystem (SHIME) to identify specific microbial metabolites of legumes and their effects on intestinal mucosa.  

Expected results

1. Clarification of the effects of pulses consumption on health in a target population and implications of the gut microbiome.

2. Clarification of bioavailability of bioactive compounds from pulses and their implications in physiological mechanisms underpinning health.

3. Individuation of host-related and gut microbiome-related factors determining a personalized response to a shift to a pulses-rich diet.
4. Development of a collection of fibre-degrading microorganisms isolated from the gut microbiome.