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Fucoidans: a new hope against important pathogens in poultry.

As is well known, the emergence of African Swine Fever (ASF) has put the world’s animal production on alert. ASF inexorably affects swine activity, since it is a lethal disease and there is still no vaccine to control it. The absence of a vaccine results in restrictions in this market as well as the slaughter of millions of pigs to avoid spreading the disease, seriously affecting the supply of pork and its by-products. Based on these facts, I have adapted a well-known proverb, having as a result: “In troubled waters, POULTRY FARMERS gain”, and the poultry sector.

The poultry sector has benefited from this situation, since the decrease in the supply of Swiss meat, added to the panic generated in the population towards its consumption, has led to a notorious increase in the demand for poultry meat, which makes it necessary to increase its production.

The large-scale production of poultry meat or eggs, with controlled environments and feed, is known as intensive poultry farming, and it is known that this production system has consequences on intestinal health and the immune system, since birds naturally modulate their intestinal and immunological activity through their walk in the open field and through the feed or particles they ingest inside the same.

When birds are confined, this autoimmunization mechanism is suppressed, which leads producers and nutritionists to find alternatives that contribute to improve the immune response while preserving the intestinal integrity and health, since the enterocytes of the small intestine, besides participating in the absorption of nutrients, constitute the first physical and chemical barrier against pathogenic agents. In addition to all the above, there is the consumer demand for a production based on animal welfare, free of antibiotics and growth promoters, which becomes a great challenge for the poultry farmer considering that the activity has to be profitable and sustainable over time.


Currently, seaweeds are considered one of the richest sources of bioactive compounds. They are divided into two main groups: Macroalgae and Microalgae. Within macroalgae we can find three groups: green algae, red algae and brown algae. Only in the latter are fucoidans found (no other species of algae or higher plant contains them in significant quantities), which we are going to talk about next and which will be the main topic until the end of this article.

FUCOIDANS are polysulfated polysaccharides synthesized only by brown algae that act as prebiotics. In recent years, the various biological activities of these biopolymers have been studied, of which the following have been reported with scientific support: antitumor and immunomodulatory activity (Alekseyenko et al., 2007; Maruyama et al., 2006; Ale et al., 2011), antiviral (Makarenkova et al., 2010), antithrombotic and anticoagulant (Zhu et al., 2010), anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect (Wang et al., 2010), and in liver disorders (Hayakawa and Nagamine, 2009). The basic chemical structure of fucoidan is shown below:

Fucoidans are considered prebiotics, functional foods that reach the colon and serve as a substrate for microorganisms for the generation of metabolites and micronutrients.

Basic chemical structure of fucoidan.

The variation among fucoidans is reflected in the content of sulfate (9% – 40%), fucose (25% – 93%), uronic acid (up to 25%) and neutral sugars (Ushakova et al., 2008). Thus, each fucoidan isolated from an alga is a compound with a unique structure and, consequently, has specific biological activities. Thus, it was recently discovered that two fucoidans, RPI-27 and RPI-28, are able to act as inhibitors of the new coronavirus and would be more effective than remdesivir, a standard antiviral used against COVID-19.

Use of fucoidans in animal nutrition

Fucoidans are considered prebiotics, functional foods that reach the colon and serve as a substrate for microorganisms for the generation of metabolites and micronutrients used by the host and also stimulate the selective growth of beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
In 2011, a study in piglets challenged with Salmonella Typhimurium strains confirmed the ability of fucoidans to increase beneficial microbiota in the cecum, increase butyric acid levels in the cecum and colon, and most importantly, fucoidans have the ability to decrease the Salmonella count of host tissues, successfully eliminating them via

fecal route:
In 2012, it was also demonstrated in piglets, the modulating capacity of the intestinal tract and the immune system of diets with fucoidans and laminarin, a bioactive polysaccharide also found in brown algae.
As a result, improvements in weight gain and feed conversion, a decrease in the number of intestinal Escherichia coli and an increase in the digestibility of dietary nutrients due to an increase in lactic acid bacteria and improved intestinal integrity were obtained: o-de-ext rac to-de-a lgas-mar inas-en-dietas-para-lechones_30655/
These studies undoubtedly show the potential benefits that fucoidans have at the digestive and immunological level in pigs, which allows us to extrapolate between monogastric species and conclude that fucoidans can act against E. coli and Salmonella strains that affect poultry species.
By 2016, the interest of the poultry scientific community in fucoidans became more evident, so much so that in that year a study was published using chicken embryo fibroblasts and embryonated eggs, which were challenged with strains of Newcastle virus and treated with fucoidans to test their antiviral activity, and as expected, once again fucoidans overcame this challenge.

Figure 1. Evaluation of fucoidan cytotoxicity to chick embryo fibroblasts. The cell viability was determined by MTT assay and compared with that of untreated cells (100% of viability). Bars represent mean values and vertical lines represent the standard error of mean (n=9, ANOVA p < 0.05)

The study concludes that indeed, fucoidans are active against Newcastle virus, and that antiviral activity was seen in both in vitro and in ovo assays, making it clear that fucoidans should be given as a preventive measure to obtain a greater antiviral response.

Finally, in 2019 a study was published in which they wanted to evaluate the effects of fucoidan and the probiotic Bacillus subtilis on growth, blood metabolites, intestinal morphology and carcass characteristics in 250 broiler chickens (Ross 360). It was concluded that fucoidan together with the probiotic, improved feed conversion, lipid profile, intestinal micro morphology (increasing the surface area for nutrient absorption) and decreased the percentage of abdominal fat.. a2221c02f1318e5afb9382b3fc519b16.pdf
With all the above described in this article, we can conclude that fucoidans from brown seaweeds positively influence the growth, performance and general health of birds. The addition of brown seaweeds in poultry diets should not only be considered for their beneficial properties in poultry, but also for us, the consumers, since this polysaccharide, by stimulating the immune system and improving intestinal integrity, makes it possible to produce poultry products free of antibiotics, safe and innocuous for human consumption. In economic terms, improving these parameters (immunity and digestibility) allows the producer to reduce production costs, since better results in weight gain and feed conversion will be obtained with lower feed consumption and less investment in treatments for diseases.

Producing with animal welfare, with natural and safe supplements or additives, considering food safety and environmental sustainability, are currently the guidelines for the poultry industry worldwide, and this is just the beginning.

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