I had the pleasure of speaking at a recent NC Ag Biotech Professional Forum as part of an Animal Health and Nutrition panel on “Biotech Solutions to Reduce the Need for Antibiotics.” The event featured speakers that addressed issues with biotech-driven solutions and provided a unique perspective on how our state is playing a role in shaping the future of agriculture in North Carolina and beyond.
I was joined by several industry experts, including:
- Paula Cray, Ph.D., Professor and Department Head of Population Health and Pathobiology, NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine
- C. Hunt, President, Andrews Hunt Farms and Former President, National Pork Producers Council
- Mitch Hockett, Ph.D., Vice President of External Research & Technical Marketing, Advanced Animal Diagnostics
- Walter Dobrogosz, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Microbiology, NC State University; Co-founder, Probiologics International (now Biogaia)
The antibiotics challenge and North Carolina’s role in finding solutions
My colleagues at the Professional Forum represented a cross section of North Carolina’s academic and industry expertise. The key challenge is that whether you support it or not, a large majority of antibiotics sold in the US are used in animal production, both for therapeutic and preventative reasons. The perception is that this wide use of antibiotics in animal production results in multi-drug resistant pathogens that can be harmful to human health and reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics being used in human health to treat disease. The bottom line is antibiotics will continue to be used therapeutically and prudently in animal production, but other alternatives and options are needed.
Enzyme solutions to reduce the need for antibiotics
The purpose of my presentation was to discuss feed enzymes as a viable, widely adopted scientifically proven alternative to antibiotic use in animal production.
Just how can enzymes help minimize antibiotic use? At a high level, enzymes improve feed ingredient digestibility in the animal’s foregut, resulting in better nutrient absorption and minimizing nutrients available for pathogenic microbes in its colon. Enzymes also have the ability to break down anti-nutritional factors (which can be allergenic/immunogenic) associated with gut inflammation and the potential to digest ingredients into smaller subunits that can directly impact gut health (prebiotics).
Biotechnology, enzymes and a “post-antibiotics” future
What is the role of biotechnology in a future where antibiotic use will be significantly restricted? It is my view that biotechnology provides us with many of the useful tools to help improve the ability of enzymes to do their jobs. For example, gene editing tools and molecular biological tools can help improve enzyme efficiency and yield. In addition, genomic tools will help us gain better insights into the microbiome and discern between poor gut health and good gut health, and allow us to prescribe more effective solutions to balance gut health.
The bottom line is that everyone agrees a number of challenges are facing the agriculture industry, including feeding an increasing global population and the need to find a delicate balance between food production, animal health and human health. The good news is that we are working together to find solutions to these problems, and that my colleagues in ag tech and biotech, including those gathered at the NC Ag Biotech Professional Forum, can help get us where we need to go.