Protein quality of pig diets: processing effects on amino acid digestibility and post-absorptive utilization

Tetske Hulshof

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


The increasing world population and per capita income imposes a risk for protein scarcity. It is, therefore, necessary to use current ingredients more efficiently which includes the accurate assessment of protein quality before inclusion in animal diets. Protein quality is defined in this thesis as the capacity of a dietary protein to meet a pig’s requirement for nitrogen (N) and amino acids (AA) to meet a particular production target. Protein quality is influenced by processing applied to feed ingredients which may lead to the formation of Maillard reaction products (MRP) or cross-link products. The Maillard and cross-link reactions mainly involve lysine (Ly)s and their products may decrease ileal crude protein (CP) digestibility. During the acid hydrolysis step used to analyze AA, part of the early MRP revert back to Lys. This reverted Lys is not bioavailable for animals. Therefore, methods that specifically analyze Lys with a free ε-amino group (that is, not bound to other nutrients) have been developed. The guanidination reaction with O-methylisourea (OMIU) is one such method. The initial aim of this thesis was to evaluate the ileal digestible reactive Lys assay as a more accurate measure for protein quality of processed protein sources than the ileal digestible total Lys assay. Soybean meal (SBM) and rapeseed meal (RSM) were used as sole protein sources throughout this thesis. Processing of SBM and RSM by toasting at 95°C for 30 min in the presence of a sugar-rich lignosulfonate was used as model for over-processed protein sources.

Digestibility, post-absorptive utilization, and pig growth performance

In Chapter 2, protein quality in processed protein sources was determined using the content of AA, OMIU-reactive Lys, MRP, and lysinoalanine (LAL; as cross-link product), the standardized ileal digestibility (SID) of AA and OMIU-reactive Lys and pig growth performance. The SBM and RSM diets contained furosine and carboxymethyllysine (CML) as MRP, and LAL indicating that the Maillard and cross-link reactions had taken place in SBM and RSM, presumably during the oil extraction/desolventizing process. The amounts of furosine, CML, and LAL were elevated in the pSBM and pRSM diets due to further processing. Processing resulted in a reduction in total and OMIU-reactive Lys contents, a decreased pig growth performance as determined by the gain to feed ratio (G:F), and the SID of CP, AA, and OMIU-reactive Lys. The SID AA contents of the protein sources from Chapter 2 were used to formulate the diets of the main in vivo experiment (Chapters 3 and 4). In this experiment, six experimental diets were used of which four contained either SBM, pSBM, RSM, or pRSM as sole protein source. The remaining two experimental diets contained pSBM or pRSM and were supplemented with crystalline AA to the same SID AA levels as the SBM or RSM diet. These supplemented diets were used to verify that processing affected AA digestibility rather than post-absorptive AA utilization. The effects of processing on CP digestibility and N solubilization along the small intestine, metabolic load as assessed by organ weight, and nutrient composition of the empty body of growing pigs are described in Chapter 3. The small intestine was divided in three segments of similar length and digesta was collected from the last 100 cm of each segment. The amount of insoluble N as a fraction of N in digesta at each small intestinal segment was not affected by processing. Thus, the reduced SID of CP and AA reported in Chapter 2 was not caused by a reduced N solubility but by a general increase of N in digesta. Processing reduced the SID of CP, CP content in the empty body, and G:F. Supplementing crystalline AA to diets containing pSBM or pRSM increased the CP content and G:F to the level of the SBM and RSM diets. Processing also reduced the weight of several organs and supplementing crystalline AA restored organ weight. The effects of processing on whole body AA composition, nutrient retention, and post-absorptive utilization of AA in growing pigs are described in Chapter 4. Post-absorptive AA utilization was calculated as percentage of SID AA intake used for AA retention. Processing affected the AA composition of protein in the organ fraction (that is, empty organs and blood), carcass, and empty body. The Lys concentration in body protein was mainly reduced by processing. Supplementing crystalline AA restored the AA composition of body protein for SBM and RSM. Processing reduced AA retention and again supplementing crystalline AA restored AA retention for both SBM and RSM. Since crystalline AA were supplemented on an SID AA basis, the results indicated that processing affected AA digestibility but not post-absorptive AA utilization. Thus, correcting AA retention for SID AA intake would result in a similar post-absorptive AA utilization which was found for most AA for the RSM diets. However, the post-absorptive AA utilization was lower for the pSBM diet than for the SBM diet which might be related to an imbalanced AA supply after absorption in the first diet.

The assessment of ileal digestibility and utilization is expensive and laborious. Therefore, two alternative in vitro methods for determining protein digestibility for processed protein sources were evaluated (Chapter 5). The protein digestibility determined using the pH-STAT method and a 2-step enzymatic method was compared with the in vivo SID of CP reported in Chapter 2. Initial pH and the degree of hydrolysis assessed in the pH-STAT method were positively correlated to SID of CP. Protein digestibility determined with the 2-step enzymatic method, simulating digestion in the stomach and small intestine, tended to correlate to SID of CP. Both the 2-step enzymatic method and pH-STAT method were suitable alternatives for the assessment of SID of CP. However, only four ingredients were tested. The suitability of the methods should be further studied using multiple (processed) feed ingredients before they can be used as alternatives for in vivo assays.

Reactive Lys analysis

O-methylisourea was reported to bind specifically to the ε-amino group of Lys. The results of Chapter 2, however, cast doubt on the specificity of OMIU to react only with the ε-amino group of Lys. A series of experiments was conducted to study this specificity (Chapter 6). Incubating crystalline L-Lys with OMIU under standard conditions (OMIU pH of 10.6, OMIU to AA ratio of 1000:1, and reaction time of 7 d) resulted in a low homoarginine (that is, Lys with OMIU bound to its ε-amino group) recovery. The reaction of OMIU with the α-amino group of Lys was confirmed by mass spectrometry analysis with double derivatized Lys being identified. Several reaction conditions (OMIU pH, OMIU to Lys ratio, and reaction time) were studied but none of these resulted in 100% recovery of homoarginine. Binding of OMIU to the α-amino group of Lys could result in an underestimation of the reactive Lys content when significant levels of Lys with a free α-amino group (that is, crystalline L-Lys (HCl), free and N-terminal Lys) are present in food/feed ingredients, diets, and ileal digesta. The free Lys content in food/feed ingredients was on average 1.3% of total Lys. The free Lys content can be substantial in certain diets and was reported to be 13% of total Lys in ileal digesta. The latter might result in an overestimation of the OMIU-reactive Lys digestibility. The reaction of OMIU with α-amino groups may necessitate analysis of free Lys to accurately quantify reactive lysine in samples containing a large proportion of Lys with a free α-amino group.

The results presented in this thesis indicate that the effects of processing on SID of CP and AA, body composition, nutrient retention, post-absorptive AA utilization, and growth performance could be substantial. These effects should, therefore, be taken into account when using processed feed ingredients in diets for growing pigs. The extent of protein damage in feed ingredients can be assessed by the analysis of OMIU-reactive and total Lys, MRP, and cross-link products. However, OMIU-reactive Lys only provides accurate results when samples contain small levels of Lys with a free α-amino group (that is, crystalline L-Lys (HCl), free and N-terminal Lys). When samples contain significant levels of Lys with a free α-amino group, it is recommended to use standard guanidination conditions (OMIU pH of 10.6, OMIU to AA ratio of 1000:1, and reaction time of 7 d) to convert protein-bound Lys to homoarginine and to separately analyze such samples for free Lys.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Hendriks, Wouter, Promotor
  • Bikker, Paul, Co-promotor
  • van der Poel, Thomas, Co-promotor
Award date2 Nov 2016
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789462579026
Publication statusPublished - 2016



  • pigs
  • protein quality
  • pig feeding
  • feeds
  • feed processing
  • amino acids
  • protein digestibility
  • digestive absorption
  • protein utilization
  • nutrition physiology
  • animal nutrition

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