Research Project Could Help Livestock Production
SCIENTISTS at the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, are heading a European Union-backed research project to explore the potential of a range of novel plants and plant extracts which, it is believed, could increase the efficiency of livestock production, help the environment, and slow the spread of antibiotic resistance in human infections.
The `novel plants' research project, of which the Rowett is the co-ordinating body, involves academic and commercial partners in Switzerland, Ireland, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom. The work is funded by the EU at 1.94 million Euros plus a contribution of 137,640 Euros from the Swiss government.
The Rowett's Dr John Wallace, project leader, says that these plants, which are already growing naturally in many parts of the world, appear to offer a `safe, green alternative' to existing animal feed additives, and, if developed for use throughout Europe, would create significant environmental and human health benefits.
Dr Wallace, head of the Microbial Metabolism research group at the Rowett, also says that the new plants could offer farmers a highly effective alternative to man-made feed additives, including antibiotics, which producers in many countries are still using to improve animal productivity and welfare.
"We know that the release of methane from ruminants is extremely damaging to the environment," he said. "Currently, however, methane release levels are increasing at an exponential rate. We believe our work has the potential to halt this increase and help stabilise the environment by taking a natural route to improved rumen fermentation.
"At the same time, we believe that the current growth in antibiotic resistance in humans, part of which is generally accepted to be linked to the use of antibiotics in animal feeding, could also be reduced by quite a substantial amount.
"In each case, the gains in environmental and human welfare appear to be achievable in harmony with animal production requirements, and, at the same time, will even improve ruminant performance."
The Rowett's interest in the potential feeding value of new plant species draws much of its inspiration from 20 years of working with the International Livestock Research Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"ILRI has a huge collection of plants which grow in tropical and subtropical regions," said Dr Wallace.
"We've been involved in screening this collection as our part in ILRI's search for crops which might be more drought- and pest-resistant than those which are presently being grown in Africa for feeding to farm animals. …