Gut microbiome and why it is important for a sustainable production of monogastrics


ESR blog

Shiv Vasa, Ramesha Wishna-Kadawarage, Pauline Lichou

The term microbiome describes the totality of microbes, including their genetic material, living in a particular environment. This consortium of microbes is composed of bacteria, archaea, fungi, protozoa and viruses. However, often the term microbiome refers only to bacteria. Specific terms exist to refer to specific microbes, such as the virome or the mycobiome, which include all viruses and fungi, respectively. The microbiome occupies any surface of an animal exposed to the external environment and therefore covers the skin, genital, respiratory and gastro-intestinal tracts (GIT). The GIT of animals, harbors a diversity of microbes. A healthy gut microbiome plays an important role in host gut development and physiology, immunomodulation, pathogen exclusion, resilience to stress factors such as weaning and heat stress and brain health through the gut-brain axis. An imbalance in the microbiome composition is known also as dysbiosis and may negatively affect the aforementioned traits and ultimately animal performance.

The mammalian GIT is populated by trillions of bacteria. For instance, the colon alone is populated by 1010 and 1011 bacteria. These are in constant interaction with the host and other members of the microbial community. Early gut colonization of microbiota in a piglet life is vital. Many scientific studies have proved this by raising piglets in sterile (germ-free) environment and comparing them to microbial exposed piglets. The sterile piglets failed to have optimal early gut microbial colonization and hence had reduced gut barrier function, mucus production and suffered from inadequate intestinal epithelium functioning. Early microbial colonization also has later life consequences in the weaner and finisher stages. For example, piglets experiencing diarrhea post weaning had different microbiome than non-diarrheic pigs, even from one day after birth. Additionally, there is sufficient evidence, which suggests an impact of gut microbial diversity on growth and feed efficiency, especially in finisher pigs.

Therefore, modulating the gut microbiome by targeted strategies at the early-life colonization has potential to improve gut development, growth performance and overall health in pigs. In our projects within the MonoGutHealth project, we are investigating such strategies. For instance, Kevin Bogota (ESR7) administers a multicomponent plant cocktail to weaners and broilers to reduce post-weaning diarrhea and optimize gut health. Moreover, Shiv Vasa (ESR9) and Pauline Lichou (ESR10) investigate if modifying sow gut microbiome can influence piglet gut colonization by supplementing sow diet with probiotics and other feed additives.

Similarly, the chicken gut also hosts a variety of microbes where the composition and quantity are influenced by many factors such as age, diet, housing conditions and site of the GIT. Apart from the major functions of gut microbiome described above, the gut microbiome of chickens displays a crucial role in influencing the bird’s ability to cope with heat stress. The chicken gut is also known to carry food born pathogens such as Campylobacter and Salmonella strains which cause gastroenteritis in humans. Hence, gut microbiome modulation in chickens is vital to ensure the health and welfare of birds as well as food safety of the poultry products. Ramesha Wishna-Kadawarage (ESR3) and Modou Mangan (ESR4) work on gut microbiota modulation by delivering bioactives in-ovo to minimize the colonization of pathogens in the GIT and heat stress effects on broilers, respectively. Additionally, Muhammad Zeeshan Akram (ESR11) works on the impact of different hatching systems on the microbiome of broilers. Thus, the various PhD projects within the MonoGutHealth project seek to utilize the modulation potential of the gut microbiome to address major issues in pig and poultry production.

The objective of the MonoGutHealth project is to elucidate the potential to modulate the gut microbiome for healthy monogastrics