Research update: collaboration delivers improved livestock feed

Beef Central, 13/02/2012


Research aimed at identifying and developing ‘new generation’ enzymes that can improve the nutritional and environmental benefits of livestock feed has resulted from Federal Government subsidised research. Here the University of Queensland’s media unit explains how.

University of Queensland (UQ) research into improving livestock feed has received a boost from two Australian government-funded industry engagement schemes.

The Consulting and Research Division of UQ's main commercialisation company, UniQuest, helped an interdisciplinary team leverage an Enterprise Connect Researcher in Business (RiB) grant to secure an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant for working with Bioproton Pty Ltd.

The team was led by Professor Kirill Alexandrov from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) and Associate Professor Stephen Mahler from the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).

The discovery and development of improved enzymes for feedstock supplements, and their subsequent nutritional and environmental impacts, is a key outcome of the funded research.

Associate Professor Mahler said the project had both environmental and commercial benefits.

“Growth in global food demand is placing enormous pressure on the global agricultural sector to deliver safe, efficient and environmentally sustainable food to meet demands of current and future generations," Associate Professor Mahler said.

"These grants have allowed us to investigate new approaches to accelerate the production and analysis of new generation enzymes.

“With enzyme-based supplements, farm animals excrete less phosphorus.

"A high phytate burden in soil causes eutrophication of surrounding ponds and waterways on industrial farming sites, leading to algae blooms and destruction of marine life.

“By developing livestock feed enzymes with superior characteristics that can be added economically to animal food, we can help farmers achieve more productive and environmentally sustainable farming.”

Associate Professor Mahler said that the experience of working with an industry client on a global challenge was particularly rewarding.

“As a researcher, the opportunity to move from fully funded industry research, to subsidised research through the RiB grant, and then attract an ARC Linkage project has been a valuable professional development exercise," he said.

"It has also allowed the AIBN to achieve one of its key objectives, which is to work closely with industry to bring commercial reality to scientific endeavours.”

The partnership has also achieved goals for Bioproton, a company established in Brisbane 18 years ago to manufacture and market pharmaceuticals and agribiochemicals.

“Working with the University to establish an all-in-vitro platform for protein synthesis and analysis means we can resolve a major bottleneck in protein engineering,” Bioproton director Henrik Von Hellens said.

“The world-class scientific infrastructure at The University of Queensland and close proximity to rapidly growing Asia-Pacific markets were key considerations for relocating our company's head-office, product development and manufacturing operations to Brisbane in 1993.

“This approach will deliver a novel tool for rapid engineering and biophysical analysis of proteins with much higher throughput and lower cost than presently possible.

"While this represents a competitive edge for Bioproton, there are wider implications.

“Accelerating the speed and precision with which recombinant proteins can be engineered could transform the biotechnology, ‘green' chemistry and food industries.

"Developing new and novel enzymes with applications in fields other than animal nutrition is also important to our research plans.”

UniQuest Managing Director David Henderson said the project highlighted the value of an interdisciplinary approach to addressing key issues facing particular industries.

“It's another example of how university research is having a positive impact on the industries which are contributing to Australia's strong economy," he said.

"We are proud to have played a connective role in optimising the outcomes of publicly-funded scientific research and industry R&D.”

Animal nutrition has an estimated worldwide market size of US$551 million.

Although the current market is driven by protein pharmaceuticals that account for over US$160 billion in sales annually, use of recombinant proteins in the food and chemical industry is growing rapidly.

It is projected to reach market volume of $130 billion by 2012 and account for 10 per cent of sales within the chemical industry.


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