EUREKA project E! 3025 MONALISA has developed a new, completely natural alternative to using antibiotics in animal feed. Formerly used as growth promoters and to prevent the damaging effects of the fungal toxins which are often present in feed, antibiotics have been prohibited for use in animal feed in the EU since 2006 - creating a need for a new, effective antimycotoxic agent. The already-known capacity of clay minerals to adsorb these mycotoxins has been increased ten times over in this project by the incorporation of molecules of extracts from algae (seaweed) onto the clay. The resulting activated clay is added to animal feed, where it is highly efficient at adsorbing the mycotoxin molecules.
Mycotoxins - which have, over the years, become one of the major concerns of animal feed producers - are the chemical products of fungal moulds which are often present in cereal grains and forage crops. They are especially prevalent in warm and humid regions like Asia and South America, where the climate conditions favour fungal growth. Mycotoxins cause a range of problems to farm animals, including reducing their feed intake and therefore reducing their growth. Consuming mycotoxins can also make animals more susceptible to disease and lead to damaged liver and kidneys. Human health is affected by consumption of animal products like meat, milk and eggs which are contaminated with mycotoxins.
For many years, a range of antibiotics have been applied in low doses to animal feed, to control the production of mycotoxins and to act as growth promoters. But as part of its policy to reduce the threat of developing microbial resistance to antibiotics, the use of antibiotics in animal feed was banned in the EU from 1 January 2006. This policy meant that there was an urgent need for some other way to control the mycotoxins in animal feed.
French company Olmix was aware that some naturally-occurring clay minerals, particularly montmorillonite, were able to adsorb organic molecules including these toxic substances onto their surface. The clays are formed of layers of about one nanometre. Within the MONALISA project, French company Olmix employed the process known as intercalation, to include molecules of seaweed extracts between the clay layers; making the new product Amadeite®. This process separates the layers (delamination) and increases the interlayer space; and as a result the clay is able to adsorb up to ten times the amount of mycotoxins compared to pure clay. "Our idea," says Dr Anca Laza-Knoerr, "was to introduce a natural product into the clay, rather than the synthetic polymers that had already been used to make activated clays."
The process, which involves suspension of the clay and seaweed extract in water, followed by removal of the remaining algal extract, centrifugation and drying, now holds two worldwide patents. It is the development of this process that is the main technological innovation. As well as applications in the field of animal feed, the clay-algal extract combination has potential uses in the purification of water from waste effluents, heavy metals or radioactive pollution.
Olmix worked on the preparation of the seaweed for extraction in partnership with other specialised laboratories: the European Research Centre for Algae (CEVA,) and the Laboratoire de Matériaux à Porosité Contrôlée (LMPC, Mulhouse). The seaweed is readily and cheaply available on beaches, but it has to be carefully washed before extraction so that residual sand does not damage the extraction machinery. Use of the algae for this purpose has the secondary benefit that it is so plentiful in some regions that it is considered an environmental pollutant.
Successful products from basic research
Further development of the application of Amadeite® in animal feed was made by the Spanish partner in the MONALISA project, Adiveter, which has specialist knowledge of the microbiological monitoring of feeds and raw materials. As a result, since the end of the project Olmix has been able to market two products for use in animal feed. The first, called M Feed, is a growth promoter which aids the digestive process and helps to maintain the balance of the gut microflora. The economic yield of the animals is increased by enhanced digestion and growth. The second product, MTx+ adsorbs harmful mycotoxins from the feed and its use has been shown to increase livestock productivity. Both products are already being marketed in many countries throughout Europe and in Russia, the US and Japan, with estimated worldwide sales of €12 million in 2009. "The activated clay Amadeite® is an innovative, natural additive, and really important for agriculture and many other industrial applications," says Aurélie Garel, also from Olmix.
Developing the new activated clay product Amadeite® was only possible through the support of EUREKA, which helped to locate and bring together partner organisations with the right expertise and facilities. Collaboration between the partner organisations was excellent. The impact of the project is that it allowed the development of a highly effective range of products, to take the place of the antibiotics whose widespread use was threatening to increase microbial resistance.
EUREKA is one of the leading platforms for R&D-performing entrepreneurs in Europe. Founded in 1985, EUREKA now unites 39 member countries. Together, they promote international, market-oriented research and innovation through the support they offer to enterprises, universities and research institutes. Results stemming from EUREKA projects are everywhere: mp3; HDTV; rewritable CDs; mobile phone technology; navigation systems; smartcards to support mobile and electronic commerce; film special effects software for cinema; state-of-the-art medical devices and technologies to monitor and limit environmental pollution.