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Bio-Control: Probiotic Microorganisms for Healthier Animals and Crops

What is Bio-Control?
Microorganisms have developed many mechanisms to ensure their survival in the ongoing competition for food and space that occurs between the helpful (probiotic) microorganisms and disease-causing (pathogenic) microorganisms.

Bio-control technology harnesses the beneficial, naturally occurring mechanisms that allow producers to improve and maintain livestock and crop health, while minimizing the use of harmful chemical agents. The naturally occurring mechanisms listed below work synergistically to create a highly effective method of managing pathogenic microorganisms in a variety of environments.

1. Competitive exclusion (Gause’s Law) occurs when millions of microorganisms of one species or type dominate an environment. By consuming most of the food and occupying much of the physical space, they leave few resources for other microorganisms to access. This results in the less competitive organisms being unable to multiply or exist.
2. Quorum sensing is an elegant form of chemical communication between microorganisms of the same species, allowing the dominant group to “tell” other groups that the available space is already occupied, causing the less dominant microbes to become dormant or expire.
3. Breakdown of biofilms results in the removal of a tough covering created by many microorganisms to protect their colony from harm (Figure 1.) Probiotic bacteria break down this biofilm structure, making the pathogens more susceptible to competitive exclusion and quorum sensing.

By using the above principles, harmful microorganisms are not directly “killed” and resistance similar to that caused by chemicals and drugs is not triggered. With the regular addition of probiotic microorganisms into an environment, these principles can be maintained over a periods of years without the development of resistance by other microorganisms.
In many agricultural situations, healthy levels of beneficial microbes are unable to become established and flourish, due to the repeated applications of herbicides, pesticides, chemicals, disinfectants and drugs. This directly compromises the beneficial microbe populations not only in the soil, water and barns, but also depletes the health of micro environments that exist on the animal’s skin (sores, infections or animal irritability) and in their digestive tract (diarrhea, poor feed conversion, low immune function).

The rapid evolution of multi-drug resistant pathogens that is showing up on farms today indicates that there is a need for sustainable and effective alternatives to the chemicals and drugs that are currently being used. Bio-control is a way of using the well-recognized principles of competitive exclusion, quorum sensing, and biofilm reduction to give farmers an effective way to reduce the use of chemicals and drugs.

Bio-control is not new technology—European livestock producers have been embracing these methods for decades. A severe outbreak of salmonella on Finnish broiler farms in 1971 resulted in two Finnish researchers, Nurmi and Rantala, discovering that by giving newly hatched chicks a dose of healthy gut microbes they could effectively reduce Salmonella levels. Since then digestive probiotics for animals has been researched and shown to have multiple benefits not only for disease management, but for improved immune function, healthier appearance, and improved digestive function and feed conversion. Other countries have made significant contributions in pioneering probiotic products for agricultural applications for a variety of uses; controlling pathogenic fungi on plants in greenhouses, and reducing pathogenic bacteria found in water lines, dugouts, fish tanks and even poultry and hog barns.

In 2003 Eric van den Heuvel, a large swine producer in Holland, had a problem. Most of his hogs tested positive for methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), as did his family. As this infection is highly resistant and unresponsive to antibiotic treatment, he started a trial with a special bio-control cleaning product called Chrisal which contains probiotic bacteria. Testing conducted one year later showed that the MRSA had been eradicated from the hogs, and that his family members were also free of the infection. In addition, he had reduced the use of antibiotics in his hog operation by 95%. A graph of the decline in antibiotic use is presented as Fig. 2.

Chrisal has a wide range of agricultural applications for equine, poultry, swine, and dairy facilities. Originally developed in Belgium a decade ago for human healthcare, Chrisal products were rapidly embraced by the agricultural livestock sector across Europe. Chrisal products are a prime example of bio-control technology, having a simple and effective approach: 1) they are highly effective cleaners; 2) they leave behind a high numbers of beneficial bacteria which naturally suppress the harmful microorganisms; 3) they are non-toxic and do not compromise the animals’ natural immune function. Chrisal products have now been used by Canadian broiler producers since July 2010 with a demonstrated reduction in antibiotic use, improved feed conversions and lowered mortality and condemn rates.

Another example of European bio-control influence into Canada is David Craig. In the 1980s David Craig, of Craigcrest Holsteins in Ontario, found himself frustrated by the lack of alternatives to drugs for maintaining herd health. After learning that European farms had begun using digestive probiotics (direct fed microbials) and had decreased their drug usage, he went to Europe to see for himself.

“On my initial trip to Europe I learned that the Europeans were way ahead of us in terms of problem solving with bio-control. They had already encountered many of the challenges we were just starting to recognize as serious and already had bio-control solutions underway. That is still true today,” Craig explained.
Impressed by what he saw, he began working with European specialists to create a probiotic blend for his own herd. Never intending his probiotics to become a business on its own, the outstanding results he obtained with his own herd were mirrored by other producers, and demand for his product eventually caused him to make the shift from full-time dairy farming to full-time production of species specific animal probiotics.

As a society we have been trained to kill anything we perceive as harmful and many products proclaim to kill “99.9%” of all bugs.” In our eagerness to eradicate the harmful bugs, we forgot to ask what happens when we also eradicate the “good bugs”. Now we are learning that the “good” microbes are what naturally suppress the harmful ones. Bio-control simply enhances the presence of “good” organisms and give the farmer effective options for reducing the amount of drugs and chemicals that are routinely used in agriculture.


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