Specially-bred wheat could help provide some of the key nutrients essential for healthy bones in poultry, reducing the need to supplement the feed, researchers have found.
Scientists at Aarhus University discovered that wheat can be bred naturally to produce high levels of phytase, an enzyme needed to release phosphorus, which the bird requires to grow a healthy skeleton.
The wheat was tested on poultry in feed trials carried at Nottingham Trent University’s Poultry Research Unit.
The poultry industry has been very successful in improving bird productivity, with growth rates increasing threefold over the last 50 years.
In order to ensure that bird welfare is not compromised, however, particular attention has to be focused on ensuring that a healthy, well-developed skeletal frame is produced. Nutritionists have tackled this issue through supplements, to ensure the correct mineral balance in the diet. A key component is phosphorus, a mineral found in plant tissues, grains and oil seeds and which is vital for skeletal growth and maintenance.
However, not only is phosphorus supplementation very expensive but also the phosphorus, from plant sources, present in the feed of poultry and pigs has a very low bio-availability, being bound up in a plant substance called phytate.
Phosphorus bound in phytate cannot be utilised by these monogastric animals because they have negligible amounts of the phytase enzyme in their gastrointestinal tract, which is needed to make the phosphorus from phytate bioavailable.
Plant-breeding scientists from Aarhus University used their expertise to make it simple and efficient to breed wheat with naturally high levels of phytase.
Scientists in Nottingham Trent University’s poultry nutrition research team then designed and carried out a poultry nutrition trial to compare this new source of phytase to traditional poultry died formulations.
The trial shows that inclusion of the high phytase wheat in the feed is a highly effective way to unlock the phosphorus in the diet for use by the animal.
Dr Henrik Brinch-Pedersen, group leader at Aarhus University’s department of molecular biology and genetics, said “Aiming for high phytase activity in wheat grains has been a key research target for many years.”
“Reaching it was a milestone, but seeing that it works well in animal feeding is extremely satisfactory.”
Dr Emily Burton, head of the poultry research unit in Nottingham Trent University’s school of animal, rural and environmental sciences, said ”It has been exciting to explore a completely different way of providing meat chickens with the phosphorous needed for healthy bones.
”We will be looking to explore further the possibilities of wheat-derived phytase, as emerging research in this field shows the anti-nutritional effects of phytate in poultry extends far beyond locking away phosphorous.”
Source: Newsquest Media Group