Evonik is focusing on probiotics, gut health, and modelling

‘The full potential of the probiotics market has not yet been fully exploited’

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© istock/VasilySmirnov
© istock/VasilySmirnov
Evonik says it is focusing on the development of alternatives to antibiotics with probiotics as a central plank in its strategy. 

In July, the specialty chemicals group expanded its product portfolio by acquiring the probiotics business of Norel. However, Evonik said it is significantly stepping up its own research in this field.  

When asked what strains of probiotics Evonik will be evaluating, Dr Emmanuel Auer, head of the animal nutrition business at the German company, told this publication:

“We want to establish a product portfolio that is clearly linked to customer application needs. In the first place, the product has to fulfil customer specific needs and has to generate a benefit. Depending on this need/benefit profile, we will go for a spore-forming bacteria or a lactic acid bacteria. Today, one major advantage of spore forming bacteria is heat stability. However, we are open to all kinds of strains and technologies.”

And Evonik believes the full potential of the probiotics market has not yet been fully exploited. “We would like to seize this opportunity,”​ said Auer.

Investment

The company, he said, has dedicated a significant share of its biotechnology R&D budget to probiotics.

“The effects and benefits of probiotics depend on a complex metabolic system. Our well-researched, scientific approach aims to further develop trust in this product group.  Evonik has invested in gut health and diagnostic competence and we are collaborating with renowned research institutes worldwide,”​ said the animal nutrition specialist.

In terms of what Evonik sees as the current knowledge gaps around the benefits or otherwise of the use of probiotics in the diets of pigs, poultry, dairy and fish, he said:

“At the moment, there is still a lot to explore scientifically [in order] to develop the right products and application services in the area of probiotics. One of the major challenges of probiotics is to get consistent results in different regions across the globe and [varied] customer environments. Therefore, we are building up the know-how on how the strain, the animal (host) and external factors (livestock management) interact and influence each other.”

He said Evonik has strengths in the poultry area but also wants to exploit its good position in the pig and aqua segment in relation to probiotic research.

Gut health and diagnostics

The company is also looking to innovate in the area of gut health and diagnostics:

“It is well accepted that gut health depends on a complex and dynamic trilateral interaction between the diet, the host and the intestinal bacteria called microbiota. Several environmental factors, like poor diet or a high pathogen burden can disturb the system leading to an unbalanced situation called dysbiosis resulting in health issues and performance losses.

“The access to novel sequencing technologies combined with new bioinformatics tools allows us to analyze complex microbiota dynamics within the chicken gastro-intestinal-system.

“There is growing evidence showing a connection between good animal performance and microbiota composition. The knowledge of microbiota compositions and pathogen distributions will help us to give dedicated feed advice to farmers [along with the] application of probiotics known to stabilize or modify intestinal bacteria towards a healthy gut,” ​said Auer.

The group’s bioinformatics specialists, he said, will also contribute to strain development research using omics technology.

They will study the genes of the intestinal organisms and gather information about the abilities of certain bacteria, with the goal of identifyinggenes that might contribute to an improved synthesis of a biotechnology-based product such as amino acids or vitamins, said Auer.

Modelling

Evonik is also working on a gut simulation model designed to biochemically mimic the digestion of chickens throughout the gastrointestinal tract and simulate the effect of feed additives.

The project is part of the initiative, Good Bacteria and Bioactives in Industry (GOBI), funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.  

Expanding on the workings of that model, Auer explained: 

“Host microbe interactions will be simulated by cell line experiments. Dedicated cell lines will mimic the chicken intestinal mucosa allowing us to analyze the effect of feed additives, such as probiotics on invading pathogens as well as the potential immune modulation properties [of additives] by measuring levels of cytokine expression.”

He said host pathogen interaction studies is one of Evonik’s prioritized research topics.

“We are planning to use the [gut simulation] model to analyze the pathogen inhibition capability of feed additives as well as development candidates. However, as for any model, the results have to be confirmed in vivo finally. Nevertheless, we will speed up our development by focusing and limiting the in vivo challenge tests on those development candidates which have performed in the model,”​ said Auer. 

He acknowledged that any such model would have limitations. “However, without modelling it will become extremely challenging to understand and improve any metabolic system to understand the mode-of-action and tailor the corresponding innovation. Hence, we have the ambition to improve and validate the system continuously to be very close to reality. The major advantage of this model will be the flexibility to adapt the system to region and customer specific diets, pathogens and further environmental factors,” ​added Auer.

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