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Pioneering research to develop natural plant extracts for use as supplements received major animal nutrition prize

Dr John Wallace, a senior scientist at Aberdeen’s Rowett Research Institute, has been awarded the DSM Nutrition Award for 2007 in recognition of his pioneering research in animal nutrition.

The award is endowed with 50,000 euros and will be given at the 58th Annual Meeting of the European Association for Animal production in Dublin from 26-29th August. The judging committee made special mention of his recent pioneering research to develop natural plant-based products as supplements for animal feeds.

Dr Wallace’s research career has focused on the mysterious world of the rumen. This is the large, four-chambered stomach which is a feature of animals such as cows and sheep (and is why these animals are called ruminants). The rumen is really a huge fermentation vat which houses billions of bacteria and several litres of fluid. In this gurgling chamber the rumen bugs break down the grass and other plant materials which the ruminants eat, but can’t digest without the help of the these bugs. The metabolism of the rumen bugs is vitally important to the health and productivity of ruminants and Dr Wallace is a world expert in this area.

Dr Wallace joined the Rowett Research Institute in 1976. He has published over 200 scientific papers and his expertise has taken him around the world to visit other laboratories and to give keynote talks at major scientific meetings. His work has always been of great interest to animal feedstuff manufacturers and to date he has worked with over 30 companies across Europe.

“Initially my research looked at how feed additives such as yeast worked, and I was also interested to discover the mechanism of action of antibiotics, which at one point were widely used in animal nutrition to promote growth. We found that these additives have an effect on the metabolism of the rumen bugs, and can have a large impact on the how the animals grow, and their productivity. Since 2006 growth-promoting antibiotics have been banned from the EU and so livestock producers need to find new ways to maintain similar production benefits to remain competitive against overseas producers, particularly in the USA, where the use of antibiotics is still legal.

“To address this issue, I have coordinated two large European projects, one of which is currently in progress. We are examining plants, plant extracts and other natural materials for their potential as safe alternatives to antimicrobials. We have been successful in identifying plant materials that can improve nitrogen retention in ruminants, which basically means that the animals grow better and their urine is less polluting. In addition, we have found a type of chrysanthemum which helps to improve the fat composition of milk. The current project, called REPLACE, is conducting some animal trials on the most promising plant materials collected during the first project. Early results from some of the trials with early-weaned pigs look very interesting as the plant extracts seemed to help prevent the diarrhoea which these piglets are very prone to suffer from,” said Dr Wallace.

Professor Morgan, Director of the Rowett Institute, said of the award:
‘This is really a great honour for John and one he thoroughly deserves. I am delighted for him. The fact that this is a prestigious award made by the agri-food industry to one of the Rowett’s senior scientists only serves to re-enforce the relevance and practical importance of the research that the Rowett Institute has and continues to do.’

Sue Bird | alfa
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