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Antibiotics vs. Probiotics: The Neverending War of Bacteria / Will Biotechnology Be the Salvation of Livestock Farms?

Date: 15.2.2008 

Recently, there has been much said about the functional food, a food that have positive impact on our health. Thanks to the TV, almost everyone knows that the probiotic food helps to preserve the intestinal bacterial microflora and boosts the natural defense of the organism. No less often we are told that the antibiotics treatment is often unnecessary. The scientists are trying to do their best to alert the physicians about the potential negative effects, and the physicians take the whole issue more responsible than it used to be.

In order to the campaign against antibiotics overuse being effective, it is necessary to ensure that the antibiotics do not enter the system from eating animal-originated food. The solution is again probiotics. In the development of probiotics, there are participating also several biotechnological experts from Czech Republic.

The Neverending War of Bacteria

The words "probiotics" and "antibiotics" originate from Greek, and the mere translation of their meaning - "for life" and "against life" clearly denote the crucial difference in their effect. Whereas the antibiotics suppress and kill the harmful bacteria (and along with them the helpful ones), probiotics are living organisms that are capable of colonizing the intestines after being ingested, with a positive effect on human health. Mostly, these bacteria are bacteria of lactic fermentation (bifidobacteria, lactobacilles), but also some cocci (Enterococus faecium, Streptococus termophilus), and several species of yeast capable of stimulating the immunity mechanisms, producing antimicrobial substances and affect the metabolism in positive way - among others the production of vitamins, digestion process efficiency or lactose procession.

A healthy man's body is inhabited by a large number of microorganisms. The most of them can be found in the colon, as the so-called intestinal microflora. The total weight of these bacteria in an adult human is more than 1 kg, even though one gram of the microflora contains more bacteria than the number of humans on Earth. There are several hundreds of species, either helpful or potentially harmful, that can cause diarrhoea, abundance of rotting processes or production of toxic or cancerogenous substances.

Probiotics - Necessity or a Marketing Trick?

By eating probiotic food supplements, we are reinforcing the position of the helpful microorganisms, that are permanenty fighting the harmful ones for the control over the colon membrane. The importance of probiotics supplements is even higher in case of undergoing a diarrhoea or an antibiotics treatment. The balance can, however be upset and the harmful bacteria can prevail also as a result of bad eating habits and lack of fibre in the food. This has usually leads to immunity mechanisms failing. Functional food that contain probiotics can therefore be recommended to all people, excluding only those eith cow milk allergy. The probiotic bacteria definitely cannot harm the body and fermented milj products are valuable source ot calcium and proteins. The beneficial effects of yoghurts and kefirs are known for centuries - it's just the current advertising industry that creates the image of a probiotics as a health lifestyle blockbuster, a hot discovery you cannot live without. In fact, the most expensive products with the highest probiotic bacteria content are really needed only in a case when the bacterial microflora was greatly harmed, e.g in case of antibiotics treatment. Otherwise, according to the experts, any yoghurts or fermented milk products are sufficient, especially those without sugar, sweeteners or artificial colors. They are recommended especially to the elder people, whose lack of probiotic strains in the microflora comes naturally with old age.

The probiotics are one of the longevity factors, but they are not self-redeemable, of course. In order to ensure their efficiency, we have to change our eating habits - increase the ratio of food and vegetables in our food, eat more fibre, decrease the ratio of animal fats, avoid trans-fatty acids, etc. In concert, one must remember to practise physical activities, to keep his or her weight, not to smoke, not to drink alcohol in more than small doses, to manage stress and to know to relax.

Human Health through Better Livestock Nutrition

The lack of natural defense of the organism and related health complications are still more and more frequent in the population. The same problems are suffered by the animals as well, especially in the great animal farms, whose desires of reaching as high profit as possible result in the animals being exposed to extraordinary microbial stress.

The deteriorating health of the livestock, namely the increase of gastrointestinal infections led in the past to precautionary antibiotics treatments. This gave birth to antibiocoresistent strains of bacteria, that were transferred to human organisms by ingestion of meat and other animal products. The European Union (contrary to USA) prohibited the usage of antibiotics as food supplements. The European fodder industry is seeking an alternative that could help to suppress the pathogenic bacteria and help to modulate the natural intestinal microflora in to favour the microorganisms that enable better fodder utilization.

A possible precautionary measure against the stable diseases could be supporting the natural defense abilities of the animal organisms by biologically pure substances, either chosen microbial cultures (probiotics) or other bio-products (immunoglobulines). It has been confirmed that probiotics are able of acting as substitute for the growth-enhancer effect of the so-called fodder antibiotics, especially in youths. The important fact is that aside increasing the rentability of agricultural production, it can also have beneficial effects on the quality and biological value of the final products - the food, The effect of probiotics is based on the principle of using the natural bioregulation systems for protection of the human food chain and the natural ecosystems against the intrusion and contamination of alien, hamful substances. Modern bio-preparates are produced also in the Czech Republic, the company Medipharm CZ, Ltd. cooperates in their development with many research facilities and universities both local and abroad.

However, this "bio" alternative has a pretty difficult position, facing the competition of other preparates and non-antibiotic growth stimulants that are backed by powerful lobby of producers of pharmaceutical and chemical fodder additions. The way towards biological and nutritionally rich food is neither a simple, nor an inexpensive one.

Will Biotechnology Be the Salvation of Livestock Farms?

Using antibiotics in fodder is definitely leading to degradation of the effects of antibiotics treatment in humans, says director of Medipharm CZ company, MVDr. Petr Mičan.

There is no doubt about positive effects of using chosen microbial cultures (probiotics) and other bioproducts (immunoglobulines) in human nutrition and medicine. Similarly, the biotechnologies are successfully applied in nutrition and breeding of livestock. However, the biotechnologies are finding their way into the fodder industry and practice only slowly. We have interviewed Dr. Petr Mičan, director of the Medipharm CZ, Ltd., company, that focuses on utilization of modern biotechnological approaches in the agriculture and food industry, as well as human and veterinary medicine.

Mr. Director, can the current livestock breeding be realized without the aid of various supportive, stimulating and protective preparatives ?

If you are thinking about the intensive livestock breeding practices and farms, then alas, I consider using these various types of supportive preparatives necessary.

When using the biopreparatives, to what extent they are able to substitute the effects of antibiotics? What is their comparative advantage to competitors?

Answer to this question is neither simple nor unambiguous. The long-term practical, experimental results clearly proved that the modern biopreparatives display higher productive effects than the so-called nutritional antibiotics (Zn-Bacitracin, Flavomycin, etc.) and chemostimulators (Nitrovin). However, the probiotics can never replace the chemotherapeutics and curative antibiotics. It should be noted that the effects of biopreparatives in animal feeding is extremely dependent on the quality of the preparatives and used dosage. The general advantage of probiotics, "so far", is the harmlessness in regard to health, hygiene and ecology. Surely you note that I have used the "so far" words intentionally.

It is not only about the economical profit, but also about the health of consumers. What effects has using the biocultures for consumers of animal-originated products?

Well, from this point of view, you are a welcome exception, because many of the interviewers are nowadays interested primarily in the economical profits and neglect the other effects. I would like to emphasize again that using antibiotics in fodder leads to degradation of curative effects of antibiotics treatment in human patients. On the other hand, the chemostimulators used in livestock fodder leaves cancerogenous residues in animal meat and products, and therefore they pose a threat to the consumer's health. The nature itself gave us the solution. Learning and discovering the mechanisms of various important processes, e.g. youth protection, gave us the ground for new development of biotechnologies usable in nutrition of both humans and animals, and the probiotics are now respected and common part of our eating habits and even some treatment approaches. It's only a matter of time for this trend to break massively into the livestock industry as well.

The Czech Republic has a long-lasting tradition in research and usage of biotechnologies in agriculture. What is the extent of using modern biologic preparatives - probiotics and immunoglobulines - in our current agricultural production? How we stand in comparison to other developed states? Aren't these preparatives too expensive for our agriculturalists?

It is true that the Czech Republic, along with Sweden, Switzerland and Canada was once one of the leaders in research, production and utilization of new biotechnological approaches in human and livestock (especially youths) nutrition, preserving of food and fodder. Under the globalization tendencies and the opening of new market possibilities, especially in human nutrition, the industrial production of probiotics was transferred to other countries (USA, Germany, Scandinavian countries). Despite that fact, Medipharm CZ remains the sole important producer of probiotics and biological preservatives. The long-term rising of export to markets of eight developed "western" countries and the USA is a proof of quality of Czech production.

As for the cost point of view, the probiotic preparatives are equally expensive as other stimulator supplements. Using probiotics for silage conservation is far cheaper compared to the traditional chemical preservatives.

Production of antibodies (immunoglobulines - IgY technology) is a different thing altogether. Only few states have mastered the full-scale industrial production (USA, Japan), and Medipharm C owns three basic European patents for production and use. The antibodies combined with probiotics are distributed by Medipharm CZ to Czech, Slovak and Polish markets under the name IMUGUARD and to USA under the protected trademark PROVATECH. There's no doubt that this branch of biotechnology has a remarkable prospect in both agriculture and medicine.

Can you introduce some interesting new products of your company? What are you currently planning?

I have already mentioned the industrial production of immunoglobulines IMUGUARD and PROVATECH using the IgY technology. Currently, we are making an effort to improve the physical-chemical properties and application forms. In cooperation with the Veterinary Research Institute and University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Brno, we are trying to get new types of IgY substances against some of the civilization diseases. Until the patent application is finished, I'd not like to talk about details.

Is the usage of biopreparatives reasonable only in the large-capacity livestock breeding farms with high microbial concentration, or are they interesting also for the smaller farmers?

Naturally, in the small breeding farms, the "infection burden factor" is missing, partially or altogether. So, using probiotics or other protectives could seem unnecessary. Nevertheless, the research studies prove that also here, the biopreparatives helps towards better well-being of the animals.

Are these biologically pure preparatives accepted in ecological agriculture?

Yes, it is common in the world. Alas, in our country, we are facing countless obstructions from the Department of Environment. Biopreparatives that are approved in other EU countries are facing incredible administrative demands here. Such an approach strongly brings back the memories of the "When God gave authority to one, God gave also..."

Where is the branch of research heading? Do you think that the biopreparatives used now are going to be used in ten or twenty years' time since now? Or they will be replaced by something brand new?

Asking about the direction of heading is very tricky in the biotechnology. It is apparent that prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics are more or less mere replicas of the initial idea. We can hardly anticipate any new real "breakthrough".

The approach taken by some company laboratories and biological research technocrats invokes sometimes fear. Some of them are behaving according to the "well-known" motto of "We are the rulers of wind and rain..." They are trying to modify genetically some of the natural bacteria, claiming to try to improve their productive capabilities in practical use (bacteriological war?). For example, the attempts of implanting the celulase-coding gen into silage lactobacteria were made as soon as in the beginning of 90's. Fortunately, the wise "Mother Nature" objected and the gene was eliminated in the very first generation.

As for me, I can only hope that probiotics, as well as immunoglobulines, will be used correctly and for a long time.

Allow me a last question. In the future, will the use of natural defense-reinforcing preparatives be enough, or will it be necessary to fundamentally change the conditions in the current livestock breeding farms?

In my opinion, the important problems will be posed by the adaptation and natural defense of the animals. The breeders are focusing too much in one direction - they select the animals with highest ratio of efficiency and they pay no heed to their ability to adapt to the breeding conditions, nor their resistance to common diseases. Even in the future, all problems will not be solvable solely by using the biotechnologies in nutrition and treatment. We have to cope with genetically-based problems and improve the breeding conditions. The biotechnologies would thus be only the helping hand, not the solution.

Gate2Biotech.cz Editor Board



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