N&H TOPLINE: Take a quick look back to see future direction

There is value in taking a look back and getting reacquainted with some of the significant research stories to see where future trends will go.

Tim Lundeen 1, Feedstuffs Editor

December 29, 2017

12 Min Read
N&H TOPLINE: Take a quick look back to see future direction
Zeljko Bozic_Hemera_Thinkstock

The end of the year is a time when people commonly look back over the course of the past year. There is value in taking a look back and getting reacquainted with some of the significant research stories to see where future trends are heading.

The following list from approximately the last six months highlights some of the many research topics featured on Feedstuffs.com. The articles are in arbitrary order, and the list is not exhaustive.


Vitamins A, E supplementation strategies may need evaluation

Because of a "perfect storm" of vitamin production problems, supplemental vitamins A and E are becoming scarce, and prices are climbing, Dr. Bill Weiss of The Ohio State University department of animal sciences said in a recent update. Supplies probably will remain very tight well into summer of 2018.


Facial recognition, robotics to aid chick vaccination

Applied Life Sciences & Systems (ALS-S) researchers are developing a vaccination system with the potential to improve bird health and productivity and reduce the need for antibiotics. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research awarded an $800,000 Seeding Solutions grant to ALS-S, a start-up company that is using imaging and robotics technology to develop a device for vaccinating newly hatched chicks.


Researchers develop practical solar heater for poultry houses

The U.S. Poultry & Egg Assn. and its foundation announced the completion of a funded research project at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., in which researchers developed a practical solar heater for poultry houses. The project is part of the association’s comprehensive research program encompassing all phases of poultry and egg production and processing.

Dr. Sanjay Shah and colleagues at North Carolina State University developed and tested a low-cost solar heater for use in poultry houses. The solar collector is made from black plastic and heated by the sun. Air coming into the poultry house is heated as it passes through the solar collector, supplementing heat provided by propane heaters and, thus, reducing the potential propane usage, they said. The study shows that use of the solar heater is economically and technically feasible for use in poultry houses.


Abattoir lesions in finishing pigs vary by production system

Organic and conventional free-range finishing pigs have more space, no docked tails and more access to roughage and open space compared to indoor finishers, according to an announcement from Aarhus University in Denmark. Thus, it concluded that free-range and organic pig production offers the pigs good opportunities to perform species-specific behaviors — conditions that aim to improve animal welfare and provide a more natural approach to keeping animals.

The occurrence of illness and injury is also an important parameter in animal welfare. To estimate the pigs’ overall welfare, their level of illness and risk of injury must be assessed in these systems, Aarhus said. One way of assessing these conditions is by looking at meat data from the slaughterhouses for signs of illness and injury of the slaughtered pigs.


Genes responsible for stillborn mummified piglets found

Researchers from animal breeding and genomics at Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and Topigs Norsvin identified several regions on the pig genome associated with early lethality, which is responsible for a significant fraction of stillborn piglets ("mummies"). They published their findings in BMC genomics. Results from this study will help lower the number of stillborn piglets by avoiding matings that produce affected or non-viable progeny, demonstrating its value for current breeding programs and animal welfare, WUR said.


Uncertainty surrounds U.S. livestock methane estimates

Following the American Chemical Society's release of a new study of methane emissions from livestock in the U.S., Pennsylvania State University researchers have provide additional details about the study, which has challenged previous top-down estimates. The research was conducted because serious discrepancies exist between top-down estimates that suggest that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is underestimating agricultural methane emissions by up to 90% and bottom-up estimates accepted by the federal government showing lower emissions, Penn State said.

Top-down emission estimates involve monitoring atmospheric methane concentrations by satellites or from air samples collected at high altitude by planes and using models to estimate the sources of emissions. Bottom-up estimates take into account livestock populations and animal emission factors, the university explained.

In their detailed analysis, researchers used a spatially explicit, bottom-up approach — based on animal inventories and feed intake-based emission factors — to estimate enteric methane emissions for cattle and manure methane emissions for cattle, swine and poultry for the contiguous U.S.


PRRS breakthrough may protect piglets before birth

Kansas State University researcher Raymond "Bob" Rowland said his latest work is helping eradicate a devastating swine disease caused by porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus, which costs the U.S. pork industry more than $600 million in losses every year. In his study, Rowland, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology in the Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine, has created a way to protect offspring from the PRRS virus during the sow's pregnancy. He found that mothers without the CD163 protein are resistant to the PRRS virus and give birth to healthy, normal piglets. The work appears in Nature's Scientific Reports.


Managing antibiotics not enough to reverse resistance

Researchers have discovered that reducing the use of antibiotics will not be enough to reverse the growing prevalence of antibiotic resistance for some types of bacteria, according to an announcement from Duke University. Besides passing along the genes bestowing antibiotic resistance to their offspring, many bacteria can also swap genes among themselves through a process called conjugation. There has long been a debate, however, as to whether this process occurs fast enough to spread through a population that is not under attack by antibiotics.

In a new study, Duke researchers believe they have found a definitive answer to that question. Through a series of experiments with bacteria capable of conjugation, they showed that all of the bacteria tested share genes fast enough to maintain resistance. However, they also showed that there are ways to disrupt the process and reverse antibiotic resistance. The results appeared online Nov. 22 in Nature Communications.


Auburn develops vaccine to fight costly catfish disease

Auburn University researchers in Alabama will use an almost $321,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to field test a novel vaccine that would effectively and economically control one of the most serious bacterial infections in the aquaculture industry today. Columnaris disease can affect nearly all freshwater fish species and causes millions of dollars in annual losses in the catfish industry alone. The sole columnaris vaccine currently available is only moderately effective, but Auburn researchers have been working on an improved immunization using bacteria derived from a highly virulent strain of the disease.


Sheep good model for studying neurodegenerative disorders

Similar to a classic conditioned response study, sheep can be trained to recognize human faces from photographic portraits — and can even identify the picture of their handler without prior training — according to new research from scientists at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. However, the main point of study, reported in the journal Royal Society: Open Science, was to monitor the sheep's cognitive abilities. Because of the relatively large size of their brains and their longevity, sheep are a good animal model for studying neurodegenerative disorders in people, such as Huntington’s disease, which involves difficulty in recognizing facial emotion.


Breeding resistant chickens for improved food safety

A new test developed by researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in College Station, Texas, could make it easier to breed pathogen-resistant chickens. The test identifies roosters whose blood contains naturally high levels of two key chemicals -- cytokines and chemokines -- which mobilize the birds' innate immune response, according to microbiologist Christi Swaggerty in the ARS Food & Feed Safety Research Unit.


Gene therapy can cure lameness in horses

Injecting DNA into injured horse tendons and ligaments can cure lameness, according to new research involving scientists at Kazan Federal University and Moscow State Academy in Russia and The University of Nottingham in the U.K. The gene therapy technology was used in horses that had gone lame due to injury; within two to three weeks, the horses were able to walk and trot. Within just two months, they were back to full health, galloping and competing.


Mars, partners launch 'uncommon collaboration' to solve aflatoxin puzzle

Mars Inc. and collaborators launched an innovative food safety initiative to crowd-source solutions to solve the problem of aflatoxin, a dangerous foodborne toxin that can cause liver cancer and stunting. On Oct. 16, a series of aflatoxin puzzles went online on Foldit, a platform that allows gamers to explore how amino acids are folded together to create proteins. The puzzles provide gamers with a starting enzyme that has the potential to degrade aflatoxin. Gamers from around the world then battle it out to redesign and improve the enzyme so that it can neutralize aflatoxin.

One in 10 people eat unsafe foods — like those containing aflatoxin — which can have severe health, economic and social consequences. Through innovation and collaboration, Mars' goal is to combat the causes of unsafe food and improve global food security as part of its Sustainable in a Generation plan.


Fatty acid nutrition effect on milk fat

Over a portion of the summer in the Midwest, milk components (both milk protein and fat content) declined, and butterfat value rose to a premium level, accounting for nearly 60% of the Class III milk price. This seasonal milk fat decline, coupled with the fact that fat accounts for a majority of producers’ milk payments and marginal milk prices, has put fatty acid nutrition and fat tests in the crosshairs of nearly all dairy producers and their nutritionists.

Dairy cattle nutritionists and researchers "have come to understand that specific long-chain fatty acids can affect diet metabolism and energy partitioning beyond just calories,” said John Goeser, Rock River Laboratory animal nutrition, research and innovation director. “Concentration on this area is growing due to advancing research, nutrition technologies and dairy economics.”

Similar to how nutritionists now formulate for specific amino acids (e.g., lysine and methionine), Goeser said he believes the dairy nutrition industry is transitioning towards being able to better recognize and feed specific fatty acids.


Auburn research aims to determine fertility in heifers

The seeds for Paul Dyce’s animal science research were planted early in his life, while working on the family farm in Ontario, Canada. “I was raised on a beef cattle farm and was directly involved with developing our heifers,” said Dyce, an assistant professor with the Auburn University department of animal sciences. “It was always in the back of my mind that there had to be a better way of distinguishing between fertile and non-fertile heifers. I kept thinking about this, even as I went away to school and completed a degree in molecular biology.”

At Auburn, Dyce is conducting the research he envisioned, working to develop a relatively non-invasive test that can be used early in the production process to distinguish a fertile heifer from an infertile heifer. A key to Dyce’s work has been recognizing the applicability of an emerging new technology — metabolomics — to the field of animal science. Metabolomics is the large-scale study of small molecules, commonly known as metabolites, found within cells, biofluids or tissues. Collectively, these small molecules and their interactions within a biological system are known as the metabolome.


Wildfire, invasive species alter land management in West

A growing number of areas burned by wildfires throughout the western U.S. are expected to increase soil erosion rates within watersheds, causing more sediment to be present in downstream rivers and reservoirs, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

As a number of previous peer-reviewed studies have shown, the area burned annually by wildfires has increased in recent decades and is expected to continue to increase this century. Many growing cities and towns rely on water from rivers and reservoirs originating in watersheds where wildfire and sedimentation are projected to increase.

USGS scientists analyzed a collection of climate, fire and erosion models for 471 large watersheds throughout the western U.S. They found that by 2050, the amount of sediment in more than one-third of watersheds could at least double. In nearly nine-tenths of the watersheds, sedimentation is projected to increase by more than 10%.


Genetic marker sought for feed efficiency in cattle

Researchers with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture are working to identify genetic markers that can help cattle producers find the best bang for their buck when choosing breeds and budgeting for feed. Kelly Bryant, director of the division’s Southeast Research & Extension Center (SEREC), and several members of his research team and staff from Beefmaster Breeders United are monitoring offspring from the SEREC herd of Beefmaster heritage lines in an effort to determine if feed conversion efficiency is an inheritable trait.


Taking on sheep parasites with spider venom

Besides searching for anti-parasitical compounds, researchers turn to arachnid venom for new compounds to treat antimicrobial-resistant bacteria and cancer.

Internal parasites are getting more difficult to control in grazing livestock as the parasites develop resistance to commonly used medications. These gastrointestinal parasites also cost producers money and resources by way of treatment and lost productivity. For example, internal parasites cost the Australian sheep industry around $400 million each year, with huge implications for animal welfare. The cattle and sheep industries in North America and other parts of the world face similar costs and lost performance.


Meat scientists looking at new ways to preserve bacon

Can a simple antioxidant bring more sizzle to bacon? Kansas State University researchers think so and started a project to figure it out.

Meat scientists have known for a long time that meat develops an off-flavor the longer it sits, even if it is refrigerated. Kansas State University meat scientist Terry Houser said the fat in meat deteriorates over time — a process called oxidation, because it is caused by the interaction of oxygen with the meat product. “We know that bacon has a problem with oxidation over time,” Houser said. “So, what we’re trying to do is look at classes of antioxidants that we can use to stabilize that fat.” Houser said the challenge is to add antioxidants to the frozen products so they last longer yet maintain the flavor customers desire.

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