There has been a substantial and steadily growing body of research supporting the benefits of a multiple-enzyme approach, and the progress on this front is quickly emerging as the cutting edge of feed enzyme technology.
By ROB PATTERSON*
*Rob Patterson is technical services manager of Canadian Bio-Systems Inc., an innovation-focused company that manufactures a wide range of products used in feed, food, industrial and environmental applications.
THE world of feed technology is becoming more sophisticated at a rapid pace, and one of the key innovations is the rising availability and use of multiple enzyme blends.
It's a fresh approach to get more out of feedstuffs through better utilization of energy and nutrients, leading to corresponding improvements in animal performance and health while reducing potential waste and environmental impacts.
However, are "multiples" necessarily better than single enzymes, and what are the best multiples to do the job? This has been a topic of debate that will continue as producers and the industry gain experience with different products and strategies.
While there is complexity to the answer, one thing that doesn't change — whether using singles or multiples — is the need for the right enzyme activities backed by the right science and matched to the needs of specific livestock and feedstuffs.
Here are five important fundamentals to consider:
1. Understanding enzymes: Lock-and-key approach. There are several reasons why enzymes are included in animal rations. The main one is that all feed includes a number of either hard-to-digest or indigestible components, and enzymes are a tool that can break down these components so more energy and nutrients are absorbed by the animal rather than simply passing through unused.
Different enzymes do different jobs. The trick is to match them in a lock-and-key fashion with the specific hard-to-digest components (substrates) that are targets. For example, arguably the greatest enzyme success story to date has been phytase, which targets phytic acid (also known as phytate).
The phytic acid in plant material is essentially indigestible for monogastrics such as swine and poultry. However, phytase addresses this by causing the hydrolysis (i.e., breakdown) of phytate, which liberates phosphorus, calcium and other nutrients, thereby increasing their absorption. This allows nutritionists to reduce the inclusion of inorganic or synthetic sources of these nutrients, resulting in financial savings for the operation.
Over the years, feed enzyme technology has advanced not only for phytase products but also for a number of other enzyme formulations with different activities and targets, including, for example, various forms of xylanase that target xylans, cellulase for targeting cellulose and beta-glucanase that targets beta-glucans.
2. Delivering predictable benefits. Not all enzyme products are created equally. Results can vary widely based on different sources with different levels of quality and ranges of activity, as well as differences in formulations and levels delivered. So, having the right product design is a huge factor. This is partly why it's difficult to predict whether animals fed exogenous dietary enzymes will show improved growth 100% of the time.
It can be said with good certainty, based on published studies, that the enzymes will be working to break down their target components (indigestible substrates). However, if improved performance is not observed, it is likely due to one of three primary reasons.
First, the enzymes supplemented may not have been tailored to the major substrates present in the diet.
Second, if the level of enzyme supplemented is too low, there may not be enough substrate broken down and subsequent nutrients released to lead to improved growth or feed efficiency.
Third, optimal conditions for the chemistry of the enzymes supplemented may not match with the actual conditions inside the gastrointestinal tract of the animal.
For example, an enzyme that has an optimal pH of 9.0 will not be efficacious in the small intestine of a young pig where the pH is typically 5.0.
3. The power of multiples. The concept of multiples is simple enough. It's about using more than one type of enzyme blended together within the same formulation. The idea is to address a greater number of substrates with the ease of use of a single product. There is also potential to capture "synergistic" benefits where formulations are designed in a way that helps particular sources of enzymes work better together than they would on their own.
Taking the concept of multiples a step further today is the potential for a "multi-carbohydrase" approach. This involves using multiple enzyme strains, each with multiple activities, designed to further boost both the direct and synergistic benefits of a multiples approach. Think of this as an "extra-strength" use of multiples, backed by robust science to maximize the complementary nature of the elements in the blend.
Over the past decade, there has been a substantial and steadily growing body of research supporting the benefits of multiples as well as the multi-carbohydrase approach, and the progress on this front is quickly emerging as the cutting edge of feed enzyme technology.
In North America, this research includes a number of studies conducted at the University of Manitoba, several of which have involved Canadian Bio-Systems Inc. (Canadian Bio-Systems has partnered with the University of Manitoba, University of Saskatchewan and University of Alberta on studies to support product development.)
4. Targeting "total breakdown." To truly maximize the potential, a "total breakdown" strategy is required. This means taking stock of all of the indigestible or hard-to-digest components in the diet and then using an enzyme product that best targets as many of these components as possible.
To illustrate, let's consider the indigestible fiber component — non-starch polysaccharides (NSPs) — of a typical corn/soybean meal diet for monogastrics. In a given sample, NSPs may comprise about 6% of the diet. Of this 6% of NSPs, xylan would comprise the greatest portion, at 43%, followed by cellulose and beta-glucans at 35%, pectins at 8%, mannans at 4% and various other NSP components making up the remaining 10%.
If the approach is to use a single enzyme, a formulation with xylanase is the obvious choice for this type of diet. However, even if the product used is the best of its kind and addresses this 43% of NSPs, then 57% is left to still be addressed. Total breakdown for this type of diet requires multiple enzymes that address not just one of the NSPs but all of them.
5. Game-changing potential for industry. The key factor to recognize here is that there is more than one type of fiber. This is a fact still not widely discussed or taken as common knowledge across livestock industries.
Even if some of the specific fiber types not addressed seem relatively small, with today's tight margins and pressures to maximize production, it doesn't take much for any untapped nutrients and energy to quickly add up to substantial dollars left on the table. Operations of any size have the opportunity to get a strong return with the right approach.
There is another important factor in the equation: The advantage of enzymes as a tool that is derived from nature and used to enhance natural processes. This fits well in today's environment of higher consumer expectations for food production, including greater scrutiny of all types of inputs.
At a time of tightening regulations related to the use of antibiotics and medicated feed, the results enzymes can achieve make them a viable alternative option that can play a stronger role.
So, are multiples truly better? Again, it comes down to having the right product for the job. Look at the options, learn about the science and do your homework before making a decision. With the right product selection, the answer, based on today's science, is clearly "yes," and this is the growing consensus taking hold in the marketplace.
What science says
Early performance studies that used diets supplemented with single enzyme activities often led to disappointing results.
Due to the complexity of the plant cell wall structure, it appears that a multi-enzyme system of carbohydrases and proteases is often necessary to disrupt and solubilize the cell walls to a significant extent in a relatively short time period.
Studies published over the past decade show that in the majority of situations, multi-enzyme formulations following this approach increase nutrient digestibility and improve feed efficiency by substantial margins.
Recent research has also now shown that beyond the traditional benefits of enzyme supplementation, additional health benefits exist, such as aiding in intestinal homeostasis and improving the uptake of essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. The benefits of enzymes have also been shown to extend beyond the performance and health of the animal and may improve environmental quality as well.
A list of key studies can be viewed at www.canadianbio.com.