Tests conducted on experimental farms showed that adding the supplement to cattle feed increased milk production by 5% after 45 days (photo: Eduardo Cesar / Pesquisa FAPESP)

Startup develops segmented probiotics for animal nutrition

17 de setembro de 2019

By Elton Alisson  |  Agência FAPESP – Probiotics are present in products consumed by humans, such as yogurt, cheese and fermented milk, but they have also been used to supplement animal feed, with the promise of enhancing the growth, health and performance of livestock. The problem is that while these live bacteria and yeasts are beneficial to health when added to animal feed, they are very generic, according to Natanael Pinheiro Leitão Júnior, founder of the Brazilian biotech startup YLive.

“The probiotics in pet food are the same as those used as feed supplements for dairy calves, for example. The efficiency of these microorganisms obviously won’t be the same in different species,” he says.

YLive has developed a technology to formulate more segmented probiotics for animal nutrition via a project supported by FAPESP’s Innovative Research in Small Business Program (PIPE). The system selects microorganisms that benefit the health and productivity of each type of animal based on an analysis of gut microbiota – the microorganisms that live in the digestive tract.

The genetic analysis of the gut microbiota is correlated with some 50 health and performance parameters, such as milk production and composition.

“The microorganisms that correlate with the best health and performance parameters are included when a new probiotic is formulated in order to tailor the product to a specific type of animal and make it more effective than the products currently available on the market,” Natanael says.

The startup’s researchers have used the technology to develop a probiotic specifically for dairy cattle raised in Brazil.

Tests conducted on experimental farms showed that adding the new probiotic to cattle feed increased milk production by 5% after 45 days of supplementation, according to Natanael.

“This result is very similar to that obtained by applying the main antibiotics used today to treat dairy cattle, such as monensin or virginiamycin, with the advantage that it’s a natural product and leaves no traces in milk or meat,” he says.

Incubated at the Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology (CIETEC), which is hosted by the University of São Paulo – USP’s main campus, the startup is seeking partners interested in testing its probiotics in the animal food and veterinary product industries. “We would prefer to sell our products to these industries rather than supply farmers directly,” he says.

Change in the business plan

YLive was one of the startups that took part in the fifth edition of the Leaders in Innovation Fellowships (LIF) in the United Kingdom.

Offered by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), with support from the Newton Fund, the program was launched five years ago to train researchers in developing countries in entrepreneurship and help them commercialize the technologies they develop.

The initiative was designed to assist researchers in countries that partner with RAE to develop business plans for innovation.

The researchers selected to participate in the program attend an immersive training course in the UK, with access to specialized mentors and international networking opportunities.

With the program’s support, they quickly develop a plan to commercialize their innovation. In the long term, they have access to an international network of innovators and mentors who help them work out a business plan.

In 2018-19, startups from 16 countries, including Brazil, participated in the program. In Brazil, FAPESP is responsible for selecting participants.

“Approximately 70 researchers with PIPE Phase 1 projects [demonstrating technical feasibility] have participated in the training program to date. We’re now in the process of selecting participants for the next round, to be held in the UK in November,” says Patricia Tedeschi, FAPESP’s manager of research for innovation.

Participants in previous rounds met at FAPESP in September 2019 to exchange progress reports and discuss fresh challenges in business plan development.

“Participation in the program enabled us to change our market focus,” Natanael says. “Our original idea was to develop a product for dairy cattle, but as a result of the training program we realized our technology could be used to develop probiotics for several other sectors, such as poultry and beef cattle.”