Seeking answers to some of agriculture's biggest questions
Alltech’s smarter, more sustainable solutions for agriculture are built on a strong foundation of science that began when founder Dr. Pearse Lyons first harnessed his expertise in yeast fermentation. Today, the company’s unparalleled global presence and research foundation have powered the creation of many technologies that enhance animal health and productivity, strengthen the safety of the entire food chain and support sustainable agri-food.
From optimizing animal health to safeguarding our natural resources, the agri-food industry faces many obstacles today, particularly as it works to nourish a burgeoning world population.
“Agricultural science must rise to the challenges now, which is why we fervently believe in the synergistic power of research partnerships,” said Janna Norton, who oversees university relations and education outreach for Alltech as the company’s research business manager.
More than 100 scientists conduct research activities across five Alltech bioscience centers and five divisions: ruminant, monogastric, chemistry and toxicology, biological sciences and life sciences. Alltech has pioneered scientific breakthroughs regarding the application of yeast and yeast-derived products, organic trace mineral nutrition, selenium’s role in animal and human health, the function of digestive enzymes in maximizing feed efficiency, nutritional strategies for performance and well-being, and more.
Alltech has also established research alliances with leading universities and institutions around the world that bring together leading experts in their respective fields and provide the necessary resources to drive industry transformation.
Alltech researchers are creating leading-edge solutions that harness the power of science to nourish people and the planet, illustrating Alltech’s commitment to Working Together for a Planet of Plenty™. From reducing antibiotic use and antimicrobial resistance to lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improving soil health and more, Alltech’s teams are seeking answers to some of the biggest questions facing the agriculture industry and the world.
Alltech’s role in the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR)
Alltech researchers are making advancements in pathogen control and the global fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR), one of the largest and most urgent threats to global health, food security and socioeconomic development today. In 2019, nearly 5 million human deaths worldwide were associated with bacterial AMR according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2050, that number could be as high as 10 million deaths per year.
Antibiotic resistance can develop in bacteria naturally, but the use and misuse of antimicrobials in disease prevention and treatment in humans and in animals — and their use for improving growth rates in food-producing animals — have contributed to an accelerated development of AMR, explained Dr. Richard Murphy, research director of the Alltech European Bioscience Centre in Dunboyne, Ireland.
There is a global movement to reduce antimicrobial use in livestock production, especially as a growth promoter. Restricting or banning the use of antibiotics, however, does not eliminate or significantly decrease AMR, Dr. Murphy said. Despite increasing levels of control and restrictions on antibiotic use, resistance remains high. The answer lies in finding strategies to reduce the prevalence of resistant organisms in our production systems and in our environment, creating ways to control multiple types of resistance without compromising food safety and increasing the susceptibility of resistant microbes to antimicrobials.
We need to think beyond antibiotic-free.
“Rather than focusing solely on antimicrobial resistance, we also need to focus on the pathogens, because of the high-level prevalence of antimicrobial resistance that’s present in those pathogens,” he said.
As part of ongoing efforts to support restrictions on the non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in the poultry and pig industries, recent research at Alltech has focused on the mechanisms surrounding antimicrobial resistance and its impacts on antimicrobial efficacy toward common foodborne pathogens, such as resistant E. coli.
The research has shown that mannan-rich fraction (MRF) can enhance the sensitivity of bacteria to the effects of antibiotics.
By enhancing overall microbial diversity and balance within the gut, we can enhance the gut’s resistance to pathogen colonization.
“If you can expand the richness and the diversity of the gut microflora, that enables the GI tract to self-police. You get greater resistance to pathogen colonization of the GI tract,” Dr. Murphy said.
Actigen® is a key technology in this space, as it participates in normalizing gut microflora and promoting microbiome diversity.
“Actigen can improve the integrity of tight junctions in the gut, which give us better intestinal barrier function,” said Dr. Jules Taylor-Pickard, director of the Alltech Gut Health Management platform. “So, if we have better intestinal barrier function, we can help to prevent pathogenic bacteria from actually entering the animal’s system and also making them sick.”
“And we also know that the main multiplication of resistant bacteria are in the gut, which acts as a reservoir for these resistant bacteria and resistant genes,” she added. “Again, this highlights the importance of good gut health.”
The use of alternative products designed to regulate and support the gut environment and its microflora will assist in the move to antibiotic-free production, Dr. Taylor-Pickard said.
Among these products are several nutritional solutions Alltech has pioneered: feed enzymes, organic minerals, yeast cell wall derivatives, such as mannan-oligosaccharides (MOS) and mannose-rich fraction, and functional nutrients and probiotics.
The Alltech Gut Health Management platform helps producers strengthen gut microflora to enable the GI tract to offer greater pathogen resistance. It offers a path to antibiotic-free production that begins with the Seed, Feed, Weed program, which ‘seeds’ the gut with favorable organisms, ‘feeds’ a favorable environment to provide a competitive advantage to favorable bacteria, and ‘weeds’ out unfavorable bacteria.
There is no “silver bullet” for reducing AMR, Dr. Murphy said. It is difficult to replace antibiotics with a single compound or nutritional additive.
However, through a combination of strategies, producers can rehabilitate and accelerate the evolution of intestinal microbiota.
Buck Island collaboration shows potential of carbon-negative beef production
Is carbon-negative beef production possible?
Yes! Alltech researchers have observed it at Buck Island Ranch in Lake Placid, Florida, and the potential likely extends to environments around the world.
Through a strategic research alliance with Archbold Expeditions at Buck Island, Alltech has had the unique opportunity over the past three years to measure the carbon emissions of beef production and evaluate the effects of pasture management, grazing strategies, mineral supplementation and other nutritional strategies. What the researchers have learned is astounding: These measures have allowed Buck Island’s beef ranch to become carbon neutral.
By comparing Alltech’s data to Archbold’s historical records, the researchers have demonstrated a direct connection between sustainability and improved cow efficiency. The project has also provided a new understanding of the full carbon cycle on a beef ranch, one that is not solely focused on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the animal but also on natural GHG emissions from the land, the photosynthesis of GHGs, and the sequestration of carbon in the soil.
Animal emissions are not the full story!
Buck Island is a 10,000-acre ranch with about 3,000 cows, and it produces 2,300 calves annually. For many years, Archbold has been monitoring GHG emissions there by using eddy flux towers, collecting soil samples and keeping an annual soil sample database, and using GPS to monitor grazing.
The alliance has partnered Archbold’s ecologists with Alltech’s animal scientists, creating a well-rounded team that is unlocking new knowledge of the soil microbiome and carbon sequestration, optimizing nutrition and improving production.
Because of a lack of practical tools to measure carbon flux on farms, most carbon emission models use a book value to determine the carbon footprint instead of taking measurements directly. That is not the case at Buck Island. The Buck Island research team uses eddy flux towers to take actual measurements of GHGs in the atmosphere and evaluate carbon capture by the soil.
The team can compare the historical records of cattle management and performance, pasture management, plant growth and soil biodiversity with current measurements to determine the effects of changes in nutritional and management strategies on the ecosystem of Buck Island.
Only focusing on the animal misses the bigger picture. Alltech Crop Science and Ideagro have a wealth of information and technologies for nourishing the soil through its microbial population. The teams will continue to investigate how these microbes boost soil chemistry and nutrient density, helping to sequester more carbon in the soil. By including soil in the equation, we bring the carbon sequestration cycle full-circle.
The work at Buck Island continues as researchers collaborate with Alltech E-CO2 and others to develop precision tools to measure methane yields and intensity. The next step is the inclusion of advanced sequestering measurements that will evaluate how management and nutrition affect the carbon cycle and make it possible for beef operations to sequester carbon. A life-cycle analysis is also being conducted.
Thanks to the Buck Island project, Alltech is defining climate-smart management practices for reducing GHG emissions and promoting carbon sequestration in cattle production systems.
Carlson Farm project: Understanding the soil microbiome
To better understand microbial populations, Alltech researchers carried out a pilot study of pasture lands at Carlson Farm in Missouri. The study compared three pasture management strategies: ungrazed, lightly grazed and heavily grazed.
The team used a genomic approach to assess the microbial population. This provides information on the composition of the microbiome and the relative abundance of organisms in the soil. On average, the ungrazed pasture samples had a lower carbon index (i.e., less sequestration) and greater activities in pathways associated with carbon loss (e.g., methanogenesis, respiration and fermentation).
Other microbial and functional differences predicted from the evaluation of pasture management practices included:
- Increased biodiversity in grazed pastures
- Improved soil quality in grazed pastures
- Decreased methanogenesis in grazed pastures
- Decreased aerobic respiration in grazed pastures
- System changes for plant nutrition
- Mineral uptake and transport
- Changes in plant hormones and stimulants
The analysis provides promising tools for measuring the potential for carbon sequestration in pasture soils. It will be used in more extensive validation studies at Buck Island to evaluate sequestration potential and climate-safe practices.
Demonstrating our sustainability commitments
The 2022 Alltech Sustainability Report shares our sustainability journey through the lens of the three main objectives of Working Together for a Planet of Plenty™:
- Replenishing the planet’s natural resources
- Providing nutrition for all
- Revitalizing local economies
Download and read the report at alltech.com/sustainability.