Removal of feather lipids to improve nutritional value and processing of feathers for animal feed

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Xingen Lei
Cornell University

Annual Reports


  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed additives
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Chicken feather is a large by-product of the poultry industry, producing 8.5 billion tons annually. These feathers are high in protein (about 90%), and have the potential to be a great nutrient source in animal feeds. Keratinase is an enzyme that is often added to feathers in order to increase nutrient bioavailability, but activity of the enzyme may be limited due to the waxy lipids present in the feather structure. This study will characterize the chemical composition of the lipids in feathers and identify methods to remove the lipid barriers. Lipase enzymes, which catalyze the hydrolysis of triacylglycerides, will be screened for strength and keratinase compatibility based on conditions for operational optimum. To remove the wax esters a wax esterase will be isolated, cloned and expressed from Streptomyces, a feather degrading bacteria strain. Lipase and wax esterase impact on keratinase activity will be analyzed, using feathers as substrate and looking at protein solubility and total amino acid release. It will be observed whether or not a synergistic relationship exists with the wax esterase and lipase in regards to the quality of the digested feather by keratinase. Creating an efficient cocktail of enzymes has the potential to make feather meal a competitive and cost effective means of feeding animals.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall goal of this study is to investigate the lipid layer on chicken feathers and see if removal of the lipids will enhance keratinase degradation of feather. The specific objectives of the project are:
    - Determine the chemical composition of feather lipids.
    - Identify potential lipases to hydrolyze triacylglycerides from the feathers.
    - Isolate, clone and express a wax esterase.
    - Determine if keratinase assisted by lipase enhances feather meal preparation.
    - Determine if keratinase assisted by wax esterase enhances feather meal preparation.
    - Analyze wax esterase comnbined with lipase for a synergistic effect on keratinase feather degradation.
    - Contribute to the knowledgebase on sustainable feather meal production and share that knowledge with fellow researchers and farmers.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.