Scientists create world’s first pig gut gene catalog

October 13, 2016

Scientists are hoping that new findings about the bacterial genes living inside pigs will help provide insight into many human diseases and also be an important tool in the quest towards more sustainable knowledge-based pig farming.

A recent article discusses an international consortium of researchers from France, Denmark, China and Norway who have successfully established the first catalog of bacterial genes in the gut of pigs, finding more than 7 million different bacterial genes from different kinds of pigs around the world.

Published in the latest issue of Nature Microbiology, the team of researchers analyzed stool samples from 287 pigs representing different breeds and selected pig lines from 11 different farms in France, China and Denmark. In total the researchers identified 7.7 million genes and identified a large number of known and unknown bacteria.

The results showed clear country dependent differences, reflecting differences in farm systems and antibiotics supplementation and illustrate how age, gender, and pig genetics are associated with differences in the composition of bacteria in the gut.

In addition, the results also showed how the prohibition of the use of antibiotics as growth promotants in Denmark and France seems to have reduced the load of antibiotics resistance genes in the French and Danish pigs. However, pigs in these countries still harbor genes conferring resistance to a large number of antibiotics.

“Combined with the recently published pig genome, the pig gut gene catalog will accelerate research that aims at deciphering the complex interactions between microbiota and hosts. Integration of phenotypic, genomic and metagenomics data will provide key biological information for future biomedical research, as well as in translational research toward more sustainable knowledge-based pig farming,” the scientists wrote.

Because pigs are a main livestock species for food production worldwide and are also widely used as an animal model in biomedical research, knowledge of the genes of these bacteria and their function constitutes the first step towards a more comprehensive understanding of how bacteria in the gut affect health and disease.

This research will help farmers create better pig framing strategies that combine feed efficiency and the resistance to disease, while also reducing the use of antibiotics — a main concern in relation to risks of multi-drug resistance in humans and animals.

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