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IFF Animal Nutrition & Health on the importance of phytase innovation

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The importance of continued innovation in phytase development

Despite phytase products being on the market for a number of years, the innovation in the space is only accelerating.

Phytase enzymes were discovered at the turn of the 20th​ century. As commercial products, the first generation of microbial phytases were made available in the 1990s. Despite being on the market for over 30 years, the development of more effective phytases has not stopped. This has been driven by the evolving application and utility of such products, which have grown from being primarily focused on reducing phosphorus emissions to offering far broader benefits.

The focus of research is now on optimising the economic and performance advantages that can be delivered to producers. Working alongside producers is becoming increasingly important to understand how best to achieve this; such as understanding the need for heat stable products, and providing software feedback to tailor dose needs. Delivering additional benefits, alongside reducing inorganic phosphorus, is essential to producers and that is where phytase developers can have the greatest impact.

Continuing to innovate

As long as we have not achieved 100% phytate destruction, there will always be an opportunity to create better phytase products. The impact of phytase products on emissions remains a key factor, and the advances that have been made mean that their action is moving much closer to complete phytate destruction in the gastrointestinal tract. Similarly, improvements to the pH profile have allowed modern phytases to function earlier in the gastrointestinal tract – maximising enzymatic activity and accelerating breakdown of the substrate.

However, over the years, additional data has been gathered that displays a number of other beneficial extra-phosphoric effects. As a result, the major focus of research has shifted towards reducing the anti-nutritional effects of phytate and also looking at other dietary factors that can affect the efficacy of phytase, such as limestone solubility.

Calcium is necessary for bone development and is involved in various metabolic pathways, and a deficiency of the mineral can potentially harm animal health. If phytate remains intact, it can bind to calcium in the digestive system and form insoluble calcium phytate complexes, rendering both the calcium and phosphorus unavailable to the animal. In such a case, there is the risk for monogastric animals, such as pigs and poultry, to develop calcium deficiency. Phytase enzymes break down phytate, increasing the availability of phosphorus and calcium.

Advances in the development of newer phytases have allowed for the improved bioavailability of minerals from feed. At IFF Animal Nutrition & Health, this means constantly screening and selecting for the most effective enzyme candidates before taking them through to animal testing. Once a phytase has progressed this far, the research has to continue to ensure the efficacy and safety of the product. This is the driver that led to the publication of three studies that showed the possibility of complete replacement of inorganic phosphate in broiler diets from day one, whilst maintaining growth performance and bone quality.

Thinking ahead

One of the constant issues facing producers is achieving the right balance and compatibility of feed formulation with phytase matrices. Traditionally, there have been fixed dose recommendations for phytases to provide a standardised amount of enzyme for all stages of production. Though this simplifies the process, it can be limiting for producers who want the flexibility to take into consideration specific feed formulation requirements.

A means of remedying this situation is to utilise the data that is being generated through the continual research being undertaken by leading feed additive providers. Through the use of data, it is possible to provide customised and optimised recommendations for dosage via software solutions.

At IFF, the Optimize Feed tool has been developed, which models varying factors to provide customised matrix values. The software is also able to calculate an optimal dose based on information provided on factors including: the phytate level of the diet, limestone solubility, inorganic phosphorus costs, starting energy and amino acid levels, and animal age. With a flexible model to generate matrix values, producers can be shown an optimum phytase dose, and also what would happen if this were increased or decreased. In this way, the efficient utilisation of phytase is maximised, reducing unnecessary costs and resource consumption.

Resource consumption is especially important in markets that are more tightly regulated, and fits into the ongoing trend to reduce dependence on soy-feed ingredients in certain regions. Staying ahead of these requirements means that research must be undertaken to fully understand the sustainability benefits of each phytase product and what future demands on them could be.

As such, there is ongoing research being conducted to understand how IFF’s entire portfolio can be leveraged to help reduce the reliance on soy in animal feed. This is crucial to providers both to reduce costs and to lower the overall carbon footprint of importing feed raw materials over long distances. A test of concept study by IFF researchers was recently conducted to create alternative soy-free diets that contained the same nutritional content to determine potential impact on animal performance.

Inside the black box

Beyond focusing on research that is most likely to impact producers, IFF is also striving to be transparent on the data behind its method of modelling diet-specific matrix recommendations. As such, the company published a paper detailing the numbers used to better understand the effect of Axtra PHY GOLD on the apparent ileal digestibility of amino acids in broilers. The publication provided the data from 13 datasets from four trials across three different locations, in New Zealand, Australia, and the US.

Providing the data openly is one way to ensure that providers can trust in the recommendations produced by the matrix models. Feedback from providers has been that the numbers behind matrix values are something of a ‘black box’ in traditional feed additive services. By opening the data up to public scrutiny, IFF hopes to create greater confidence in its products and services, as well as also staying in open communication with the industry.

As Axtra PHY GOLD is currently being launched in the European Union, providing this information is significant to IFF to ensure that customers understand how research undertaken is providing a constant feedback loop to develop a better product. A good example of this is R&D into limestone solubility over the last few years, and the impact it can have on the performance of animals. For Axtra PHY GOLD, this factor is built into the matrix recommendations, which allows producers to adjust their matrix values based on the limestone being used.

This was one of the key takeaways from conversations with clients, and is a great example of how ongoing research, driven by customer demand, eventually allows for the improvement of the end product. At IFF, after more than 20 years developing phytase products, the knowledge gained over this period means that it is possible to provide the level of support required by producers to make informed decisions on their formulations.

As costs continue to rise and regulatory pressure grows, having a feed additive partner that understands the complexities facing producers will be more important than ever.


1.​ Dersjant-Li Y.; Awati A.; Schulze H.; et al. Phytase in non-ruminant animal nutrition: a critical review on phytase activities in the gastrointestinal tract and influencing factors​. J Sci Food Agric. 2015 Mar 30;95(5):878-96. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.6998. Epub 2014 Dec 19. PMID: 25382707; PMCID: PMC4368368.
2.​ Marchal L.; Bello A.; Sobotik EB.; et al. A novel consensus bacterial 6-phytase variant completely replaced inorganic phosphate in broiler diets, maintaining growth performance and bone quality: data from two independent trials​. Poult Sci. 2021 Mar;100(3):100962. doi: 10.1016/j.psj.2020.12.059. Epub 2020 Dec 24. PMID: 33652522; PMCID: PMC7936205.
3. Poultry Science, July 2022​.
4.​ Dersjant-Li Y.; Bello A.; Stormink T.; et al. Modeling improvements in ileal digestible amino acids by a novel consensus bacterial 6-phytase variant in broilers​. Poultry Science, Volume 101, Issue 3, 2022, 101666, ISSN 0032-5791.

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