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Gut Check: Researchers Target GI Health in Pigs

Those who take gut health for granted have never been without it. Fortunately, researchers on the Genome Alberta-led project to boost disease resilience in pigs appreciate the importance of a healthy intestine. That’s why Janelle Fouhse, a Post Doctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta, is working with Dr. Ben Willing on host/ microbe interactions, especially in the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract.

“A key focus right now is looking at using prebiotics or nutritional supplements for piglets to improve GI health during the weaning transition period. We provide piglets with creep feed in the nursery at day 7 with or without a prebiotic made by Alltech.”

Gutting it out

They then examine growth performance in the nursery and once pigs are weaned, review their gut microbial populations on specific days and what Fouhse calls their “intestinal architecture”.

“We want to see if the intestines of pigs fed the supplement are better formed and more robust than in other piglets.”

What they’re finding is significant for piglet health and, potentially, for human health as well.

“The supplement is a second generation proprietary technology from Alltech which improves gut health, potentially leading to the reduction in pathogenic bacteria which are the main causes of food-borne illness for humans from meat production”.

”We’re encouraged to see that the animals receiving the supplement have intestines with a longer villus length that increase surface area to absorb nutrients, thereby giving pigs some added protection.”

These findings are made possible by Fouhse’s involvement with Mitacs Canada, a non-profit, national research organization that manages and funds research and training programs for undergraduates, graduate students and Postdoctoral Fellows in partnership with universities, industry and government.

Building bridges

“The main goal of Mitacs is to bridge the gap and create synergies between industry members and academics. While organizations are able to apply our research findings to their industry, we can learn from them about the role of economics in product development.”

In working with Alltech through the Mitacs program, Fouhse is helping them identify the best way to market the nutritional supplement to producers.

“We hope that the reduction in potential pathogens like Campylobacter would be one way to promote the supplement. We are emphasizing that it can reduce contamination in the food chain and improve animal health.”

For Fouhse, working with Mitacs and Alltech has been gratifying on a few fronts.

Research meets reality

“It’s really interesting to apply scientific methods to real-world problems rather than just gathering information and creating more questions [not that there’s anything wrong with that]. This has really opened my eyes to the industry and the role that research can play in making it sustainable.”

Based on their work so far, that role is a substantial one.

“It’s crucial to understand how nutritional interventions can make more robust or resilient animals. We’re trying to shape or use the microbiome as a tool to promote overall health and well-being of animals, especially during the vulnerable period of weaning.

In doing so, they hope that the boost in gut health will be an ally that can prevent illness or reduce its severity for pigs faced with a disease challenge.

And to anyone who has struggled with gut health, that’s a worthy goal indeed.

Gut Check: Researchers Target GI Health in Pigs

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