It was recently discovered that the pig gut microbiota harbors more than 7.7 million genes. The impact of gut microbiota on pig health and performance cannot be ignored these days, especially as the industry is being challenged to reduce antibiotic usage and limit the impact livestock practices have on the spread of antibiotic resistance.
Lallemand Animal Nutrition has been looking into these issues for decades, based on its expertise in microbial ecosystems and probiotics. The company, together with other private companies in the swine industry, is now part of a research partnership led by the French Institute for Agronomic Research, which is aimed at studying the influence of intestinal microbiota composition on piglet robustness at weaning within the context of limited use of antibiotics in livestock production. This is the PigletBiota project.
Publication of the first pig metagenome catalogue in 2016 indicated that many factors could affect the pig microbiota. The researchers found that withdrawal of antibiotics as growth promotants in certain countries appears to have reduced the occurrence of antibiotic resistance genes compared to countries where antibiotics are still in use.
Weaning is a very delicate step in the pig production cycle. It is often accompanied by a decreased growth rate linked to disparate food intake and diarrhea due to digestive disorders that might be associated with bacterial population disequilibrium (i.e., dysbiosis) and/or opportunistic intestinal infections.
During this period, the prophylactic use of antibiotics is still a very frequent occurrence to limit piglet morbidity and mortality. In this context, the PigletBiota project, which gathers INRA scientists and industries from both animal feeding and pig breeding sectors, aims to study the physiological and genetic bases of piglet sensitivity at weaning, including the microbiota, as a prerequisite to identify innovative actions to adapt animals and pig production systems to a reduction in antibiotic use.
In practice, around 1,000 animals will be genotyped, clinically surveyed and measured for various traits related to production, immunity and stress. On the microbiota side, their fecal microflora will be analyzed before and after weaning. The objective is to estimate the influence of the two types of parameters — animal genetics and microbiota — and their interplay and to integrate these in order to develop robust indicators of weaning sensitivity.
The PigletBiota is a public/private consortium and will favor translational research and innovation.