Biotechnology innovations often flow from the benchtop to the bedside as they are translated into medical treatments to fight diseases. At BioResource International (BRI), “we create innovations that take biotechnology from the benchtop to the farmyard,” says microbiologist Giles Shih, Ph.D., CEO.
He and his father, Jason Shih, Ph.D., founded BRI in 1999 to expand on discoveries made by Jason Shih, who then was a biotechnology professor in the department of poultry science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Now headquartered in Research Triangle Park, BRI markets two enzyme-based products for the poultry and swine industry, and the company plans to expand its production capacity into China.
While at North Carolina State University, Jason Shih developed a thermophilic poultry waste digester in the early 1980s that converted poultry manure into methane for energy. The intent was to capture the methane and use it in poorer nations for cooking and heating. He observed that some of the anaerobic microbes that powered the digester also unexpectedly decomposed shed feathers mixed in with the manure.
Through a painstaking process lasting several years, Jason Shih isolated, purified, and cloned a unique strain of Bacillus licheniformis, the bacterial source of the enzyme that degrades keratin, the insoluble protein in feathers. This heat-stable keratinase forms the basis for BRI’s two patented enzyme products Versazyme® and Valkerase®. “Both products contain the enzyme and are formulated differently for optimal performance in different applications,” says Giles Shih.
Enzymes for Efficiency
Versazyme, launched in 2005, is a powdered additive for poultry and swine feed. Corn and soybeans form the main ingredients in animal feed, but their price keeps rising. Verazyme increases the digestibility of soybean in animal diets, so producers get more value from their feed formulations.
Additionally, by increasing the digestibility of protein, less nitrogen is excreted by animals fed Verazyme. This not only helps to lower feed costs, but also reduces the environmental impact of poultry and swine producers. “We work at both the front end and back end of animals,” says Giles Shih.
By adding Versazyme to animal diets, producers can use 2% less protein. Versazyme digests a variety of proteins, including those found in plant materials, thereby improving the bioavailability of proteins in the gut. BRI has conducted academic and commercial feeding trials with Versazyme all over the world in broilers, egg layers, turkeys, and pigs. The results verify significant gains in a variety of conditions with a variety of feeds.
Versazyme can help large and small poultry and swine operations to boost profits through improved animal nutrition and weight gain, greater feed efficiency, and increased protein availability, according to Giles Shih.
A year later in 2006, BRI introduced Valkerase, which aids in the industrial process used to make a feed ingredient known as “feather meal.”
Poultry processing plants generate huge amounts of feathers that end up in landfills or are rendered into a digestible protein feed supplement called feather meal. Insoluble keratin makes up 80% of the protein in feathers, and harsh steam and cooking methods are needed to break down the keratin. The use of Valkerase in feather meal production lowers cooking temperatures and shortens the cooking time.
In 2008, BRI partnered with Novus International, an animal nutrition company, for global distribution of Versazyme and Valkerase, and BRI doubled its revenues within a year. Sales of the enzyme products particularly soared in Asia.
“Demand in China alone is equal to the rest of the world put together. That’s a great opportunity for a small company like ours,” says Giles Shih. Poultry and swine production also is increasing rapidly in Latin America. BRI is working with Taiwanese partners to construct a facility in China to serve the Asian market.
BRI is working on products for other types of animal operations. Versazyme works well in monogastric animals like poultry and swine, but cattle and dairy cows are ruminants with four stomachs.
“The digestibility is different in ruminants, and we’re doing studies in this area,” says Giles Shih. Products are also being developed for aquaculture, a rapidly growing market in the U.S. and Asia. However, fish grow at cooler temperatures than land animals, posing a unique challenge. “We’re working on designing enzymes with different temperature profiles for feeding fish,” says Giles Shih.
As food costs and demand for food increase globally, producers will need more efficient and sustainable production systems. “We will continue to harness biotechnology and develop solutions to help the agricultural industry grow in a sustainable way,” says Dr. Shih.