April 13, 2006 | By: Terri McLean

The University of Kentucky and Alltech Inc., a multinational biotechnology company based in Nicholasville, have joined forces to advance research into animal nutrigenomics, a relatively new area of science that could improve the diet and health of livestock.

The partnership was announced in conjunction with the awarding of a $1 million state grant to help Alltech build the Center for Animal Nutrigenomics and Applied Animal Nutrition in Nicholasville. In presenting the grant, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher not only hailed the advancement of Kentucky’s biotechnology industry but also praised “the collaboration of our biotechnology companies with our major universities.”

“Kentucky is a great place to have a biotechnology company,” Fletcher said. “We can provide the researchers, we can provide the support that it (the industry) needs.”

The UK College of Agriculture, primarily animal sciences, and the UK Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences will work with Alltech to help make the state a leader in the field of nutrigenomics by supporting a variety of research projects.

“This is a partnership that will allow us to have access to a broader field of expertise,” said Scott Smith, dean of the College of Agriculture. “This (alliance) is something we’ve done before, but we’re just doing it in a bigger way and with new technology.”

That new technology enables scientists to study the interaction between genes and nutrients, Smith said. It is a fast-growing technology that has applications not only for animals but for humans as well.

“The field of nutrigenomics, or the effect of diet on health, is one of the most exciting in science today,” said Karl Dawson, Alltech’s director for worldwide research. “Feeding the gene is the way forward. It will keep American agriculture and livestock production at the forefront, and this research is being done in Kentucky.”

Smith agreed. “Nutrigenomics is a powerful way to characterize the response of animals – or people – to their nutritional status,” he said. “So it’s a way to identify new mechanisms to treat nutritional deficiencies, for example, or to control the growth of an animal with supplements, feed additives and mineral nutrients. There is a huge range of things that nutrigenomics will allow you to do in a much more controlled and rational way.”

This is not the first time UK and Alltech, a global company employing 1,700 people in 85 countries, have teamed up. They already work together to research poultry nutrition at the Coldstream Research Campus in Lexington.

“We are trying to create a future – a future for Kentucky,” said Pearse Lyons, Alltech founder and president, “and we’re trying to do so with something we can be best at. … We have chosen nutrigenomics because we have some of the best scientists around and we have some of the best relationships with people like the University of Kentucky.”

An agreement signed Tuesday has several components, including formation of the joint Nutrigenomics Alliance research program and the hiring of a UK-Alltech professor of applied nutritional sciences. Alltech will fund the collaborative effort with $180,000 a year for five years. 

“We’ve stepped up in our relationship with Alltech, which has been a longstanding and very positive relationship,” Smith said. “By working together to find and translate nutrigenomics discoveries, we will help make Kentucky a world leader in this new and exciting field.”