Fecal transplants in piglets: a promising pilot study

Several studies have demonstrated that the microbiota or microbial flora (all microbes living in the digestive tract, oral cavity, on skin, etc) play key roles in human and health by contributing to the priming and proper development of the immune system, in addition to regulating metabolism.

In recent years, fecal transplants (the transfer of feces from healthy donors to restore a healthy microbiota in sick patients) have been effectively used as a medical intervention to cure patients suffering from chronic gastrointestinal infections caused by Clostridium difficile. Interestingly, microbes from the human intestinal tract can be transferred into pigs and these microbes flourish in the porcine intestinal tract to form the flora.

Based on this information, a CRIPA-FRQNT funded research group based in Québec hypothesized that they could transfer the intestinal flora from healthy piglets to sickly piglets and that this will improve the health of sickly piglets. These researchers hope that fecal transplants will eventually provide farmers with a viable alternative to antibiotic treatment and allow farmers to standardize the intestinal flora of piglets to ensure optimal health prior to weaning.

As part of the newborn fecal matter transplant procedure, suckling and weaned piglets with superior performance and health are selected as donors. After the donors’ fecal matter is collected and analysed to certify that it is free of pathogens, such as Salmonella. The donors’ microbes are concentrated and mixed with nutritional media, which is then administered orally to under- and overweight newborn piglets from different litters. This collaborative study showed that fecal matter transplants mostly change the microbiota of the large intestine (colon). However, fecal matter transplants did not fully standardize the intestinal microbiota of piglets from different litters. This study demonstrates that the lactating sow’s microbiota strongly influences her piglets’ microbiota, which will have a major impact on the outcome of the fecal matter transplant.

The next steps in this collaboration among researchers from the Université de Montréal and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, will be to follow the piglets’ health over their lifetimes. This will allow researchers to understand how fecal transplants affect the long-term health of each piglet. With financial support from the INAF (2019), these researchers will specifically monitor the expression levels of genes involved in the development of a healthy immune system. Altogether, this work will provide needed data to confirm whether fecal transplants in piglets can be used to control intestinal microbiota and whether this treatment can eventually be used instead of growth enhancers to positively influence the long-term health and performance of piglets.

Source: Rapport CRIPA-FRQNT Nouvelle initiative : Bactériothérapie chez le porcelet : preuve de concept. A. Thibodeau, J. Harel, M. Lessard, M. Bais. 6 août 2019.

Published in La Terre de Chez Nous ; Ocotber 7, 2019.

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