Ascus Biosciences looks to rumen microbes for feed supplement

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages
© GettyImages

Related tags Milk

Ascus Biosciences is looking to translate research focused on sampling and identifying communities of microbes in the rumen of high performing dairy cows into a health and production focused feed supplement.

The California-headquartered company is currently working to commercialize its first endomicrobial feed supplement product, Galaxis, said William Weldon, COO with Ascus.

The initial release is set to be in the first half of 2018 in Argentina. 

Ascus says it is pioneering endomicrobial ecology, an emerging science harnessing the natural diversity within an animal's microbiome to improve animal health and performance.

"Integrating recent advancements in DNA and RNA sequencing methods with breakthrough methods of computational analysis, endomicrobial ecology fingerprints the specific microbes naturally residing within an animal's gastrointestinal system and identifies how the microbes function and interact to influence health and performance."

He said Ascus’ goal is to study microbial communities and apply that information to animal health.

The company is looking at shared communities of microbes in high-performing cows to develop products to support and improve rumen function, he said.   

“All of these areas we’ve known were important [but] we didn’t have the tools to study effectively; the biggest takeaway and the reason that I’m so excited is that, now, we have those tools and great deal of promise for the future, for the industry, to allow us to manage health and performance in new ways,”​ Weldon told us.

Technology development

The company’s research to improve the understanding of the bacteria involved in the microbiome of cows started in early 2015, said Weldon.

It has taken about 4,500 samples of rumen fluid from dairy cows throughout the US and then completed a full DNA and RNA sequence of them to discover which microbes were present and active.

“We are trying to understand which are the microbes that are active and which of those are important. We take those microbes and turn them into a product,”​ he said. “Instead of starting with something that came from somewhere else and testing that, we can find those microbes that already exist to improve rumen function.”

The researchers assess the microbial communities, to try and understand how they change as cows transition through different parts of the production cycle and how the microbes interact with each other, he said.

They also track the microbes that are more important for improving the function of the rumen and the health and performance of the cow.

“Once we identify those that are important – you get them into pure culture and [find out] which can we make in commercial scale and commercial production systems - and which ones can be protected or survive the system, that we can put them into feed and get them into the rumen.

“Essentially, we start with a big list and look at feasibility and select a few microbes that we can grow and produce and protect.”

The feed supplements have been designed to be added to a mixed ration, he said. Feed also is being considered the primary delivery method for later products to be used with different production species and work is being done to help stabilize the live microbes involved.

“The microbes are ruminal microbes and they do a couple of things [like] turning fiber into VFA [volatile fatty acids] and things the cow can use for productivity – the benefits we see happen in that way,” ​he said. “The product helps the cow break down the feedstuffs and use it for productive function – it really improves rumen function and if we can improve rumen function, the cow will be healthy and more productive.”

Market plans

The company is starting with work on products for dairy cattle, said Weldon. Initially the product will be launched in Argentina with a tentative timeline of introducing it to the US market in the following 24 months, however it can be hard to predict the time needed to complete the regulatory process.

The company has already been doing feeding trials in several parts of the country and is currently conducting them in Argentina, he said.

“Over the course of the next few years we’ll [seek] to bring the dairy product to many of the important dairy markets around the world,” ​he said. “And, in the next couple of years expect to launch products in poultry and beef production as we move through the development cycle.”

Aquaculture and swine are also areas that are being explored for future development, he said. “Those are both species that are on our list, as well as looking at pets, but the first focus is around livestock species,”​ he added.

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