Proteins from wool can be added to the diets of animals to improve their health, AgResearch scientists have shown.

Researchers say the positive findings in the diets of domestic cats open up exciting possibilities for new uses of sheep wool to improve digestive health for a broader range of animals, and potentially human beings.

The findings have just been published in the Royal Society of Chemistry's Food & Function journal, and are available here.

"There is a lot of work going on to discover new uses of wool to support the sheep industry in New Zealand," said Dr Jolon Dyer, AgResearch's Science Group Leader for Food and Bio-based Products.

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"The research is telling us that sheep wool has many useful attributes, and one of those now appears to be proteins derived from the wool that could be used as a dietary supplement to improve digestion and nutrition, and therefore overall health."

Scientists used a method called controlled hydrolysis to extract the wool proteins. The protein hydrolysates taken from the wool were then added as an ingredient in a pet food formulation targeted towards cats, and compared against standard cat food formulations.

The findings indicated that the wool protein hydrolysates offered promise as a functional ingredient in pet foods, and also as a new nutritional ingredient in foods generally.

AgResearch senior scientist Dr Santanu Deb-Choudhury, who led the study with fellow scientist Dr Emma Bermingham, said the hydrolysates offered real potential as a supplement for pet diets.

The next steps for the research would be to study the effect of the wool hydrolysate on animals other than cats.

"There's a lot of potential in terms of how it can add to the wellbeing of pets and other animals, and even people, but we do need to see how it stacks up in the further research," Dr Deb-Choudhury said.