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[VIDEO] The microbiota and its link with feed efficiency in pigs

The emergence of new analytical techniques, their automatization and the subsequent reduction of the cost of analysis have enabled us to better identify the microbial populations forming the intestinal microbiota. As a result, much research is currently being run to better understand the role of the microbiota and its interaction with the animal host. One of the questions addressed is: does the difference between the microbiota of individuals explain part of feed efficiency variability between more efficient and less efficient pigs and can it be transmitted? Ursula Mc Cormack, a PhD student at Teagasc, Ireland, has been trying to find out if there are ways that we can manipulate the microbiota of pigs in order to improve feed efficiency. In this interview, she describes the details of some of her research projects.

Ursula, could you introduce yourself to us and brief us on your research on the links between the microbiota and feed efficiency?

My name is Ursula Mc Cormack. The topic of my thesis is " Looking at the intestinal microbiota and its link with feed efficiency in pigs ". What I’ve been doing is ranking pigs on divergent feed efficiency using residual feed intake as a marker. The main focus is to look at the differences in intestinal microbiota between highly efficient pig and poorly efficient pigs and, from that, how we can manipulate the microbiota to improve feed efficiency.

What kind of trials did you run to study the link between the microbiota and feed efficiency?

We looked at manipulating the intestinal microbiota using our faecal microbiota transplant (FMT). We took the feces of finisher pigs that were deemed to be the most feed efficient and we prepared a faecal inoculum that we gave to sows during gestation and to their offsprings at birth. We did this with the aim of beneficially influencing feed efficiency but the results were different from what we expected. The piglets born from FMT sows had a lower body weight at slaughter. The microbiota of the piglets had an increase in relative abundance of microbes that could be potentially pathogenic and a decrease in microbes that are associated with nutrient metabolism and host health.

What perspectives do you see after three years addressing the relationships between piglet microbiota and feed efficiency?

The next step following off from this work would be to look at the causes and effects so as to see if it’s the microbiota driving feed efficiency or if it’s feed efficiency driving the microbiota. After that we could use specific microbes as a targeted approach to feed them as probiotics. This would mean that we are able to select specific microbes in order to have a beneficial influence on feed efficiency. Then there is the possibility of using microbes that we would have identified as biomarkers for feed efficiency. On a more global scale, there is the possibility of linking the microbiota with genetics and in the future it could be used as a genetic selection tool.

The TECHNA Group experts are also carrying out various public-private research projects on the microbiota. One of our main objectives is to identify the impact of the parents on the microbiota of the progeny and our ability to manipulate this transfer through targeted nutritional strategies. If you would like further information on this topic, please contact our experts!

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