Are Enzymes the Answer in a “Post-Antibiotic Era?”

Neugierige Ferkel in einem modernen Ferkelaufzuchtstall

Pigs need a stronger gut: one that is able to fight off pathogens and digest feed in order to maintain the same growth benefits as in-feed antibiotics.


The recent report of a strain of bacteria that is highly resistant to antibiotics is fueling a global concern of an antibiotic apocalypse. And with the current movement away from antibiotics in the US, can we maintain the same animal growth and performance necessary to meet the worldwide demand for food?


What we know about optimizing pig growth

The use of antibiotics for disease treatment and prevention has been standard practice in the swine industry for more than 50 years because of its ability to deliver consistent improvement on pig growth –– from nursery to grower and finisher stages. While the mechanism of action for antibiotics on growth performance is not completely known, there is evidence that antibiotics inhibit pathogenic bacteria from growing in the intestine, thus decreasing inflammation and facilitating better nutrient absorption in the pig’s intestine.


In short, pigs need a stronger gut: one that is able to fight off pathogens and digest feed in order to maintain the same growth benefits as in-feed antibiotics.


That’s where enzymes come in.


How research is changing our view on enzyme supplements

Enzymes have been known primarily for their ability to break down feed ingredients such as fiber and protein. More recently, research has focused on how enzymes help with gut health and animal performance.


“Gut health and animal performance is an area of active research,” says BRI CEO, Giles Shih, Ph.D. “Enzymes not only improve digestibility of feed ingredients, they also help provide nutrients to feed beneficial bacteria, thereby limiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria and attenuating immunological responses.”


Shih says research done by BRI in collaboration with Dr. Inkyung Park, Ph.D., Hongyu Chen and Dr. Sung Woo Kim, Ph.D. show that adding the enzyme xylanase to corn and soybean diets improved feed efficiency in nursery piglets and helped to reduce the concentration of certain immune biomarkers such as malondialdehyde and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α).


Enzymes also offer a unique benefit for nursery pigs that have an allergenic reaction to soybean meal,” Shih says. He explains that the gut of baby pigs is not fully developed at weaning time when their diet changes to include soybean meal. This causes them to react to allergens such as ß-Conglycinin that are found in soybean meal. “Protease can help break down anti-nutritional factors and allergens, such as ß-Conglycinin, reducing the incidence of allergic reactions in pigs.”


Gut reactions to influence future feed additives

Unlike antibiotics, which perform well under a variety of feed and management conditions, getting the maximum performance from enzymes is a little more complex. “With enzymes it takes a bit more knowledge to maximize it to its value,” says Shih. Enzymes react differently based on the feed ingredients.


“In the future, the use of enzymes to improve animal production will become more sophisticated as nutritionists continue to optimize ingredient and enzyme combinations.”


“While there is no silver bullet to replace antibiotics, with a little more effort and knowledge, it is possible to achieve similar performance results with enzymes than we could with antibiotics,” says Shih. “And doing it in such a way that doesn’t create ‘superbugs’.”


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