Feeding barley to poultry and pigs has long been known to be affected by β-glucan found in grain cell walls. For poultry, the β-glucan effect can be negative because of high viscosity found in the digestive tract reducing nutrient digestibility and destabilizing the resident microbiota. The effect in pigs is less because of lower digesta viscosity and an increased ability of small intestine bacteria to depolymerize β-glucan. Despite differences in the extent of the β-glucan effect, the use of exogenous β-glucanase effectively reduces or eliminates the negative effects and stabilizes the digestive tract microbiota. Despite this fundamental knowledge, research using humans, as well as in vitro models and other animal species, suggests that poultry and pigs might benefit from a more detailed understanding of β-glucan effects. Two areas with promise, particularly in a reduced or antibiotic free era, are positive effects of β-glucan on host immunity and the potential for β-glucan to serve as a prebiotic in animal feeds. Superimposed on this knowledge is the need to understand how exogenous β-glucanase can be used to produce hydrolysis products that optimize these areas.
Presented at the International Fibre Summit 2019 (https://internationalfibre.com/). Reproduced with permission from the organizers.