Who’s Who – Nova Scotia – Dr. Deborah Adewole
By Jane Robinson
A new force in antibiotic alternative research.
By Jane Robinson
Canada’s poultry sector has made tremendous strides in reducing antibiotic use over the past several years. Helping lead the way is Dr. Deborah Adewole, whose innovative new research is focused on effective alternatives that will improve bird health and productivity.
Adewole, a monogastric nutritionist, holds the Industry Research Chair in Sustainable Antibiotic Reduction in Poultry at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture. It’s a five-year position co-funded by the Chicken Farmers of Canada via the Atlantic Poultry Research Institute, the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture’s provincial-federal Growing Forward II fund and Dalhousie University. Chicken Farmers of Nova Scotia has also committed to providing industry funds for her research projects over the term of her appointment.
“The overarching goal of my research is to develop strategies that establish a healthy gastrointestinal tract environment, offering ways to reduce production costs while increasing profitability and sustainability in poultry production,” says Adewole, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science and Aquaculture.
In the few years she’s been at Dalhousie, Adewole is making a big impact with the breadth of projects she’s leading, and the team she has built around her. Her work is focused on helping the industry continue to reduce antibiotic use by investigating alternatives that will support healthier birds. She’s looking at innovative ingredients to boost gut health that may also decrease the overall environmental impact of the industry.
Several of her projects centre on dietary fibre as an alternative to antibiotics in broilers and she’s turning to interesting, local sources that may provide an effective and low-cost option for improving bird gut health.
“I am looking at what can be used to improve the health of chickens when antibiotic use is reduced,” Adewole says. “I know that cost is a key factor for producers, and that made me consider waste products like oat hulls and grape pomace. They are low cost and redirecting them to poultry feed could help reduce the overall environmental impact.”
The route to Dalhousie
Adewole’s path to poultry research began on her family farm in Nigeria. “I grew up where meat protein is not affordable for every household. And I became interested in how to make meat protein more available to families,” she says.
After completing a Bachelor of Agriculture degree at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, she began to look farther afield for ways to use research to improve the availability of meat protein in Nigeria. “I wanted to gain more knowledge about animal nutrition and apply that to improving food security in meat protein,” says Adewole. “So, I began to look for opportunities to study animal science research abroad.”
Her thirst for knowledge took her to the University of Manitoba in 2009, where she completed her M.Sc. and Ph.D. in monogastric nutrition and nutritional biochemistry. She focused on the digestive health in swine and poultry, studying how various feed components influence digestion and absorption.
“Poultry is one of the most affordable meat proteins with a low environmental footprint and this caught my attention while I was doing my Ph.D.,” Adewole says. And it was while doing her post doctoral work on the use of feed additives to improve gut health in poultry and swine that Adewole was recruited by Dalhousie University in 2018 to her current position.
“Deborah is a tour de force. She’s assembled a strong research team of graduate students, research associates and technicians. She’s a great mentor and manager, and has already published papers on her work,” says Dr. Christine Power, director of animal care and sustainability with Chicken Farmers of Canada. “Her mandate at Dalhousie is to focus on areas that could provide nutritional substitutions – prebiotics, probiotics and essential oils – that support the gut health of chickens and help eliminate preventative use of antimicrobials.”
Practical options to improve gut health
Adewole is immersed in a broad range of projects (see sidebar) that share a common goal to be part of the overall strategy to reduce antibiotic use in the Canadian poultry sector. “We need alternatives and my research mandate is to develop nutritional strategies that can be used to maintain health and productivity while reducing the use of antibiotics in poultry production.”
What Power finds particularly exciting about Adewole’s research is the use of common materials. “Deborah’s capacity to test all types of materials like oat hulls, grape pomace, seaweed and red osier dogwood is really exciting to see. She is on the leading edge in this area and brings tremendous value to the whole process of evaluating different materials and examining the impact on intestinal health and bird performance.”
She’s particularly excited about the potential of her work using essential oils and oat hulls to improve bird health. “The impact we saw with lower blood cholesterol levels and the improvement in the structure of the gut means this research has great potential. This work also improved the opportunity for beneficial microbes and reduced the presence of non-beneficial microbes in the gut,” Adewole says.
Adewole’s research has results in several published papers – something that brings her great satisfaction. “My publications give me a sense of fulfilment,” she says. “I feel good when the work I do in the lab and the barn is eventually out there for the industry and the public to read. And when my students receive training because of my research, that is very rewarding.”
Making an impact on farm
Adewole believes grape pomace holds the most promise for the ingredient with the greatest commercialization potential. “There are a lot of wineries in Atlantic Canada so there is cost-effective, local supply and grape pomace has not been used in the food chain.”
To date, Adewole has been using the facility at the Atlantic Poultry Research Centre for her research to mimic both laboratory and farm situations. She has future plans for broader farm level studies to further support the industry.
As for the connection back to the food security situation in Nigeria that started her on this research path, Adewole knows she can have an impact from Canada. “The connection back to Nigeria to impart my knowledge could be through collaborative work, a sabbatical or training students,” she says.
Current research projects
Adewole is currently working on the following research projects in broiler chickens:
- In ovo delivery of probiotics, essential oils and other bioactive compounds.
- The use of locally available fibre ingredients (oat hulls), fruit by-products (grape pomace) and seaweed to improve gut health.
- The use of red osier dogwood plant extracts to improve gut health and promote food safety by eliminating Salmonella, and prevent or cure oxidative stress induced by lipopolysaccharide challenge.
- The use of organic acid/essential oil blend and its combination with oat hulls to promote gut health.
- Nutritional strategies using folic acid and grape pomace to prevent white striping and woody breast.