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Boosting Disease Resilience in Pigs Takes Guts

Pig in a pen facing the cameraUnless you’re a certain presidential candidate, “going with your gut” will rarely steer you wrong. That’s certainly true of a Genome Alberta project that is applying genomics to improve disease resilience and sustainability in Canadian pork production. One of the four areas of study for the project is host-microbial interactions, which involves promoting microbial gut colonization associated with health and resilience.

According to Project Leader Dr. Michael Dyck, many things can impact disease resilience, and the factor they’re focusing on is a timely one.

“We’re looking at ways of promoting a good gut bacterial profile,” said Dr. Dyck. “It’s something you see a lot of these days with human health, like the advertising by Activia that challenges you to eat yogurt every day.”

Digesting the details                                                             

The idea is to colonize good bacteria that exist on the skin and in the gut and help with digestion.

“Those bacteria interact with the gut in positive ways and in doing so, help reduce the impact of pathogenic bacteria that are likely to make you sick.”

In that way, beneficial bacteria are like helpful employees: We like them, so we want to promote them.

“One way of promoting the positive bacteria is creating a gut environment that can help maintain their profile. If you have a pig that is stressed, perhaps from the weaning process, we want to ensure they have the best shot at thriving, and giving them the best bacteria gut profile will go a long way.”

Essentially it’s about arming the pigs to weather the stress storm or the nutritional challenge of moving from a lactation diet to solid feed; promoting the optimal gut environment for that.

The yeast we can do

So with the goal established, how do they achieve it?

“We are collaborating with Alltech, a leading global biotechnology company that has several products for gut health.”

One of those products is a yeast wall extract that the company has demonstrated will affect  milk quality when fed to sows during late gestation and lactattion.  This alters intestinal tract and promoteperformance within the nursing piglets.

“We want to investigate how that actually occurs,” said Dyck. “If we know that feeding yeast extracts to a sow changes the gene expression in the gut of their piglets, how does it affect the microbes in the piglet? Does it change the gene expression profile and, if so, can we increase the benefits by feeding the product (Actigen) to the piglet after weaning to help promote the optimal gut environment?”

Researchers know that there is interaction between bacteria in the gut and the lining of the gut, but they want to know “if that’s because we are changing the bacteria, and that’s where genomics come in. We are looking at the microbial genome there, the gene expression in the gut, to see if it is promoting certain physical processes that we can detect.”

No guts, no glory

Answering these gut-related questions would be a coup for researchers, but they stand to benefit producers and consumers as well.

“Potentially there is a product already available to producers that we are going to help Alltech investigate further. These days we are trying to reduce antibiotic use and promote health. If we can understand the microbiome and material in the gut and promote an optimal environment, animals will need fewer antibiotics.”

Furthermore, if you have healthier animals, they will be more efficient and less susceptible to disease.  

“That benefits all levels of industry: the producer, the processor in terms of food safety, the grocer and the consumer. They are all impacted by advances in this area.”

Given the potential, “going with your gut” could really pay off for researchers. Could it do the same for impulsive politicians?

That’s debatable.

Boosting Disease Resilience in Pigs Takes Guts

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