Monogastric nutrition

Responsible scientists: Stefaan De Smet (short CV) and Joris Michiels, Department of Applied Biosciences.


Research of our group is in close collaboration with the Department of Applied Biosciences (Dr J Michiels) and focuses on the digestive physiology in monogastric farm animals with emphasis on piglets and broilers. We aim at understanding the feed - gut interaction to improve nutrient efficiency, animal performances and gut health.

The use of antimicrobial feed additives is an important research topic of our group and has played a great role in the history of the laboratory. Since the ban on the use of feed antibiotics as antimicrobial growth promoters in the EU in 2006, different additives and nutritional approaches have been investigated in vitro and in vivo to reduce the microbial load in the foregut of young piglets after weaning and to improve nutrient use and gut morphology and physiology. Our group was the first to report on the beneficial effects of medium-chain fatty acids in this respect (Dr N Dierick and Prof J Decuypere). Current efforts focus on new applications and formulations of medium-chain fatty acids and antimicrobial essential oils such as thymol and cinnamaldehyde.

Increasing feed digestion and nutrient efficiency is of paramount importance for cost-effective animal production and for reducing emissions, contributing to sustainable production. The addition of enzymes to feeds for improving the digestibility or reducing the anti-nutritional effect of the fibre, fat and protein fraction may be very useful in this respect, and has been an intense area of research in our group. Novel feed sources, e.g. insect material or seaweeds, are also very topical to enhance sustainability of feed production. In collaboration with other research groups, we are now investigating the potential of the Black Soldier Fly as feed ingredient.

Oxidative stress is considered to interfere in several metabolic disorders in farm animals and contribute to non-optimal production and impaired product quality. We aim at understanding animal and dietary factors that determine the oxidative status of tissues and animal products. Special interest has been recently given to oxidative stress in the gut of newborn and weaned piglets. Ways to mitigate the offset of radicals and improve gut barrier function by natural antioxidants is under study. Another area of research is heat stress as an inducer of oxidative stress in the finishing broiler. In all cases, special interest goes to the understanding of the metabolism of glutathione, the major endogenous antioxidant in animal tissues.

Maternal nutrition may affect vitality of young animals and also performances and body composition later in life. We looked at the potential benefits of adding n-3 fatty acids in the diet of sows towards their reproductive performance, and vitality and fatty acid composition of their offspring. Maternal probiotic supplementation is being studied as well, including the long term effects on the offspring.

Our group relies on a consolidated (bio-)chemical orientation of the Laboratory of Animal Nutrition and Animal Product Quality with well-equipped laboratories, focusing on methods for analyzing feeds, tissues and digestive fluids, in vivo and in vitro digestion and absorption models, microbiome analysis and gut function (digestive enzyme activities, barrier function, histo-morphological measurements, active transport etc). Climate-controlled modern facilities for feeding trials with young piglets and broiler chickens are available.

 

Antimicrobial feed additives

  • Medium chain fatty acids
  • Phytochemicals
  • Fermented liquid feed

Oxidative stress

  • Oxidative stress in farm animals
  • Dietary antioxidants

Feed digestion

  • Feed additives
  • Insect material as feed ingredient

Maternal nutrition

  • N-3 fatty acids in the diet of sows