By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
A global animal health and nutrition company is researching how nutrients affect animal genes to gain the ability to improve such things as feed efficiency, growth rate and fertility at the molecular level.
Nutrients can activate some genes and deactivate others, and Alltech is testing how animals perform, and the quality of their meat, by switching those genes on or off.
Nutrigenomics is the study of the relationship between nutrients and gene expression, which is just what Alltech is doing at its Center for Animal Nutrigenomics & Applied Animal Nutrition in Lexington, Ky.
Nutrigenomics is a "nutrition revolution," said Jim Bannerman, Alltech's director of national accounts.
"This is the biggest development in 10 years," he said.
A huge portion of livestock production increases and efficiencies have come from genetic improvements over the last 40 years, but 65 percent to 75 percent of the cost of production still comes from feed.
"Nutrition has not kept pace with genetics; that means potential," he said.
Programmed feeding does not alter genes; it only enhances or slows gene expression. It can help livestock industries close the gap between improvements in genetics and nutrition, he said.
"It gives us a much more precise roadmap to feed animals," he said.
Closing the gap between genetic potential and animal nutrition will not only help feed the world, it will help nourish the world.
Alltech's database of more than 1,000 test samples from animals will allow the industry to develop new feed strategies and optimize the use of expensive ingredients.
It will also help improve the quality of meat, both in nutrition and eating experience.
"The more food gets expensive, the more people will demand," he said.
Food is an emotional experience, and a lot of purchase decisions are emotional. The No. 1 characteristic consumers are asking for is taste, and the challenge is going to be keeping people eating beef as it becomes more expensive, he said.
Alltech is working with producers feeding 75,000 head of beef cattle on a programmed nutrition plan in its Alltech Angus program in central Kentucky. The beef is more nutritious and tasty than conventionally fed beef and tender enough to cut with a spoon, he said.
It's being sold on the brand in 150 restaurants and online, and people are asking for it. In addition, the average daily gain on the Angus has improved 20 percent, and time to market weight has decreased by 30 days, he said.