The impact of bacterial biomass and endogenous protein loss

Modern poultry breeds require diets that provide for rapid muscle development. Because of the extraordinary growth rates of today’s birds, even small deficits in amino acids can have severe consequences. Increasingly, we recognize that endogenous protein loss, or protein loss that is non-dietary in origin, plays an important role in this process. Endogenous protein loss refers to any protein, peptide, or amino acid of non-dietary origin that exits the terminal ileum. 

Source and Significance

A considerable amount of endogenous protein is secreted into the gut during the digestive process. These proteins vary in amino acid composition, origin and in their ability to be broken down. Important endogenous sources include mucin, bile, sloughed epithelial cells and digestive enzymes. Amino acid losses attributed to these sources can be as much as 10-15 gram/kg of dry matter intake, or 1-4 grams per gram of ingested protein.

The dominant amino acids in endogenous proteins include glycine, threonine, and glutamic acid. While 75-90% of these amino acids are recovered before they leave the terminal ileum, a portion exits the ileum at a significant metabolic cost in terms of both amino acids per se and net energy. Experiments show that losses can range from 2892 kcal/kg for aspartic acid to 6740 kcal/kg for phenylalanine. Therefore, factors that affect the endogenous protein flow will also have an important bearing on digestible energy.

Microbial Biomass and Endogenous Protein Loss

Microbial biomass or protein is a peculiarity because it is neither dietary nor endogenous. Microbial protein represents a confounding “sink” of amino acids that can undergo substantial alteration in composition caused by bacterial metabolic processes, including conversion of non-protein N to protein-N.

Table 1. Amino acid composition (g/100 g amino acids) of various endogenous proteins, including bacterial sources.* *Ravindran (2016) and Miner-Williams et al. (2009).

Some researchers advocate a separation of microbial protein from other endogenous protein. This is because over 60% of protein in the ileum comes from bacterial biomass, the remainder being mucin, sloughed animal cells, and digestive enzymes. Furthermore, the amino acid composition of bacterial protein differs markedly from that of mucin or bile. Both mucin and bile proteins are dominated by threonine, serine, glycine, proline, and cystine. Amino acids prominent in bacterial sources include glutamic acid, aspartic acid, and leucine (Table 1).

Glutamic acid benefits gut energy partitioning and nutrient absorption, while leucine has positive ramifications on protein accretion. Changes in the recovery of these different sources of endogenous protein have important implications in animal nutrition.

Peptidoglycans Can Be Relevant Biomass

Dead cells and cell wall fragments, also known as intestinal waste, constitute the main source of bacterial biomass. Nearly 60% of fecal mass is bacterial and approximately 30-35% of that is dead or non-viable. The great majority of these bacteria (almost 75%) are Gram-positive. As much as 90% of the cell wall in Gram-positive bacteria is comprised of peptidoglycan (PGN). PGN is a massive polymer of amino acids (eg, peptido-) and sugars (eg,-glycan) unique to bacteria.

The protein from PGN differs considerably across bacterial species, and contains a mixture of D and L forms of amino acids. Not all D isomers can be utilized nutritionally. That said, the quantity of this waste may have a greater negative impact on performance than the presence of the D isomers. This is because fragments of dead bacteria could physically impair normal enzyme-substrate link-ups.

Implications and Conclusions

Excess endogenous protein loss can be lowered with additives like feed enzymes, and with ingredient treatments that blunt antinutritional effects. Reducing these secretory losses means more efficient N cycling. And less intestinal waste could lead to improvements in N and energy recovery because factors that interfere with enzyme-substrate couplings hamper digestive efficiency. Lowering endogenous protein losses and bacterial biomass offers unique opportunities for more efficiency in rapidly growing birds.

Published on

05 September 2018


  • Poultry
  • Eubiotics
  • Gut Health

About the Authors

Aaron Cowieson - Corporate Science Fellow

Aaron is a Corporate Science Fellow. He has a PhD in Animal Nutrition obtained from Aberdeen University, UK.  Aaron has worked in commercial and academic innovation leadership roles since 2001, most recently as a Professor at the University of Sydney in Australia, joining the DSM innovation team in 2013.  Aaron has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters and in addition to his role in DSM, is retained by Purdue University as an Adjunct Professor.  In 2016 Aaron was awarded the Poultry Nutrition Research Award by the American Feed Industry Association and in 2019 the Life Mentor Award by the Poultry Science Association.

Nelson E. Ward PhD - Enzyme Lead All Species, North America

Nelson is an Enzyme Lead All Species, North America. He holds a PhD obtained at Clemson University.

Nelson held positions in technical service and technical marketing for enzymes, vitamins, and HyD within DSM. His expertise extends to growth promotants and amino acids from previous engagements. He currently is an adjunct professor at two universities in the U.S. 


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