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SeaWorld Studies Orally Dosed Beta 1,3-D Glucan Ability to Protect Killer Whales from Infectious Disease

SeaWorld San Diego has launched a study to determine whether a natural immune modulator can protect the park's killer whales from infectious disease, thereby decreasing the need for antibiotics.

The compound being tested is a patented yeast beta 1,3/1,6 glucan. Beta 1,3-D glucan is a polysaccharide extracted from highly purified yeast cell walls. In numerous animal studies, the beta glucan has demonstrated its ability to enhance innate immune function.

Beta glucan

The one-year study will measure key biomarkers that reflect immune system activity, including white blood cell counts, phagocytic activity and Th2/Th1 cytokines. The collaborative investigation is being conducted by veterinarians at SeaWorld Adventure Parks, immunologists at the University of California at Davis, and scientists at Biopolymer Engineering. "Antibiotic-resistant organisms are as serious a health concern for marine mammals as they are for humans," said Jim McBain, D.V.M, Vice President of Veterinary Services for the Sea World Parks. "We are looking for alternative ways to protect the animals without risking antibiotic resistance."

Once every other month, SeaWorld whale trainers will ask the killer whales to voluntarily present their flukes so veterinarians may collect a sample of blood for analysis. The blood will be rushed to the SeaWorld Veterinary Laboratories where it will be prepared by medical technologists for overnight shipment to the University of California for analysis. "It is wonderful that this research collaboration can increase our knowledge of the immune system of whales and dolphins," said Dr. McBain, "but none of this would happen without the cooperation of our killer whales."

Prior to the killer whale study, SeaWorld conducted a successful safety and tolerance study in seals and sea lions. The beta glucan was delivered orally along with the animals diet of fish. General health, blood chemistry and haematology were measured before, during and after the study.

Beta 1,3-D glucan product is currently being tested by a major animal feed company to reduce disease and mortality and increase shipping weight in calves. The compound has also shown efficacy in poultry, shrimp and swine research. There are more than 200 U.S. and international patents protecting these various beta glucan compounds.