Picture this…

The year is 1984.

The scene is a farmyard near the Tsukui Lake outside Tokyo, Japan.

Intrepid Japanese professor, A. Yoneda, is on the hunt for fungi.

Armed with petri dishes, he heads for the pigsties to collect samples from the muck-strewn ground.

On 9 December 1984, Yoneda’s research reveals a unique fungus, Acremonium alcalophilum, from a rare class of microbes, capable of survival in alkaline conditions.

Little did he know that this expedition would hold the key to saving 4.2million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, 34 years later.

Fast forward to 2008, when researchers at Novozymes were looking for an enzyme that could improve gut functionality performance in broiler chickens.

Enter Kirk Matthew Schnorr, Senior Science Manager in Novozymes’ Microbial Enzyme Discovery department and part of the team that worked to discover the properties of Muramidases. Kirk selected this specific fungus as it naturally thrives in feces, at high pH.

“The Japanese fungus was the right place to look because this fungus grows around pH10, whereas most fungi grow around pH6, or even lower,” says Kirk. “So, we figured that the enzymes it produced would have a higher pH profile, and we were right!”

The fungus makes an enzyme, muramidase, that can break down bacterial debris. Like a fungal vulture, this enabled the fungus to feed on dead bacteria in the pigsty, while not disturbing the living bacteria. Farmers can add the enzyme to their chicken feed and it will remove dead bacteria stuck to the inside of the gut without altering the chickens’ natural gut flora. This allows the birds to better take up nutrients and grow.

Mikkel Klausen, Science Manager, Feed Applications at Novozymes has been working to develop Balancius™ for more than 10 years. “From an R&D point of view, as a scientist, you always dream of making the impossible happen,” he explains. “When we started this journey, nobody, myself included, believed that removing dead bacteria from the intestinal tract would have such a huge impact on bird performance.”

Kirk Matthew Schnorr sums it up well, “I like being part of something that helps farmers produce more with less – and in doing so, helps save the environment. I am rather proud.”

And rightly so.