Future of enzyme research in animal nutrition

Animal Nutrition Views

Ioannis Mavromichalis, Ph.D., gives his views on poultry, pig and dairy nutrition based on his experience as a nutrition consultant with clients around the world.

Future of enzyme research in animal nutrition

Freedom to dream is what makes great scientists, but freedom is expensive!

At the recent European Symposium on Poultry Nutrition (ESPN) conference in early May 2017, a prominent enzyme researcher mentioned that if we want something better than an improved xylanase — when it comes to fiber enzymes — we must keep dreaming. Taking this piece of advice to heart, I decided to dream about such enzymes. After all, when Jules Verne described a trip to the moon he was dreaming, right?

So, to begin with, we definitely need a good, effective, working cellulase to break down cellulose that exists in abundance. Some do exist, but their efficacy is often questioned. Hemicelluloses are an easier target, but again, enzymes for this category of fibers are still behind before they become mainstream. And, why not a pectinase? Pectins are a peculiar group of fibers that receive very little attention. Nutritionists who know how to take advantage of their presence can design some very interesting diets. But too much of anything can be negative, so a good pectinase will not harm. Of course, if we want to take it a bit further, we will need enzymes for gums, but this is getting into details.

I worry when I hear researchers no longer dream.

Now, if we really want to dream, and here I will agree with this respected researcher, I would envision an enzyme that breaks down lignin. I am sure even ruminant nutritionists will show interest in something like that. Now, what we can get out of lignin, this is a totally different discussion. But it does not hurt to dream!

If fiber remains a difficult field, then why not focus on proteins? There seems to be little room for improvement with soybeans and other similar protein sources being about 88 percent digestible. I disagree because that remaining 12 percent is ending up in the environment, at best, or is being used by harmful gut bacteria, at worst. So there is a double reason to see some powerful proteases. Easier said than done, many enzyme experts will admit, but someone did circle the globe in less than 80 days, no?

I worry when I hear researchers no longer dream. Perhaps this is the price we have to pay when we force them to go after funding that dictates their dreams and not the other way around. When did innovation prosper without freedom to explore where nobody had ever dreamed going before?