Superdosing Phytase: The journey towards a $2 billion prize

Published Thursday, 9th March 2017
Superdosing phytase  the journey towards a 2 billion prize

In understanding today’s application of superdosing phytase, it is important to know the history of where this concept originated.

Early research in this area can be traced back to 1971, when Nelson et al reported in broilers improved growth and tibia ash could be achieved with the addition of up to 7600 FTU/kg phytase. This was linked to an increased level of phytate-P disappearance, or as we may consider it today “low phytate nutrition.”

A lag followed this initial discovery until the early 2000’s, when more work was conducted in this area, with Shirley and Edwards (2003) noting that there was a quadratic increase in phytate-P disappearance in broilers up to 12,000 FTU/kg. Further research indicated that phytate acts as an anti-nutrient, reducing utilisation of nutrients such as Calcium (Ca), Zinc (Zn), Iron (Fe), Copper (Cu), amino acids and energy. This clearly highlights that the concept of high phytase use for extra performance was known from research at least 20 years prior to the first commercial phytases becoming commonplace in the industry. Therefore, any claims to have patented this application are misleading.

Connecting with academics

The evolution of phytase use was a focus at the first International Phytase Summit in Washington, D.C. in 2010, where over 30 leading researchers discussed the extra-phosphoric effects of phytase. This was followed by a second summit in 2012 looking at high levels of phytase, understanding the mechanisms and the implications that this new application could have on future animal production.

These pioneering summits brought together some of the world's experts in the area of phosphorus, phytate and phytase nutrition. They set both the industry and the academic world on the path towards high levels of phytase being commonplace in animal diets, which is unsurprising considering the application has the potential to save the feed industry up to $2 billion per year through improved animal performance.

And the evolution doesn’t stop there. As the industry has embraced phytase use, we have also become more aware of phytate and its interactions in the animal. Feed efficiency, animal welfare and ultimately profitability are all affected by phytate. So when looking to achieve precision nutrition and efficient animal diets, the role of phytate cannot be ignored.

In light of this, AB Vista hosted a third summit in conjunction with the University of Illinois and the University of Arkansas in November 2016 centred on the value chain of phytate. Unlocking phytate’s intrinsic nutritional value with high levels of phytase was the foundation of many presentations looking at maximising efficiency of animal diets. 

Commercial application

In parallel to this academic research, from around 2007 the commercial application of high levels of phytase started to gain traction. At that time AB Vista were working on phytase applications with their sister company, Primary Diets, who produce piglet starter feeds. The results of numerous trials consistently showed that high levels of phytase were eliciting a performance response not related to P release, but from phytate breakdown and improved nutrient utilisation. Data from 20 trials conducted at both university and commercial sites showed a mean improvement in piglet average daily gain (ADG) of 5.8% and FCR of 4.7% when phytase was applied at higher levels, reducing feed costs in post-weaning piglets by 12% (Toplis et al., 2010). This research resulted in a fundamental breakthrough in the commercial application of phytase through the development of an innovative low phytate piglet diet utilising high levels of phytase.

The commercial application was extended to broilers and in December 2012, it was reported in Feedinfo (Walk, 2012) that data from a series of five broiler trials showed high levels of phytase improved feed conversion by on average four points, confirming the potential win to the global monogastric industry of $2 billion. It was also confirmed that this could best be achieved by using sufficient levels of a phytase that has characteristics specific to fast maximal phytate degradation even at low substrate concentrations.

How is superdosing helping today?

Work in this field continues and has been extended to understand the implications this application can have on trace mineral utilisation, especially zinc, iron and copper in swine. For environmental reasons, the European Union has embarked on a process that may lead to a serious reduction of zinc oxide limits for just-weaned piglets. However research has shown that using high levels of phytase can better meet the needs of both the pig industry and the environment by maintaining performance whilst reducing Zn excretion into the soil.

Additional research has shown that high levels of phytase, when used in conjunction with minerals and other antioxidants, can reduce the incidence of woody breast whilst maintaining growth rate. In a market where demand for white breast meat is high, such as the US, being able to maintain the increase in growth rate and breast meat yield without negatively impacting muscle tissue development is important.

New approach to phytase use

Superposing certainly changed the way AB Vista looked at phytase. Traditionally, phytases were designed to release 0.10-0.12% available-P from a standard diet. However, Quantum Blue was the first phytase designed for use at higher levels; it releases more P and breaks down phytate. To achieve this, Quantum Blue has high intrinsic thermostability, meaning that it doesn’t need to be coated and thus it is very quickly released in the animal, quickly degrades phytate even at lower substrates concentrations, and effectively degrades the lower phytate esters formed during phytate breakdown.

So almost ten years on from the first commercial application, the poultry and swine feed industry has widely accepted the concept of phytase superdosing and are enjoying the economic benefits of this application. Currently AB Vista estimates that roughly half their customers are using phytase at high levels. Based on the economic calculations above, that means a two cents (USD) saving per bird.

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