Microbiome Research Offers New Line of Defense Against Animal Disease

A scientist with the University of Saskatchewan says, as the pressure to reduce antibiotic use intensifies, the role of the microbiome in promoting animal health will become increasingly important. The microbiome is a highly diverse consortium of bacteria, viruses, yeasts and archaea, that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. In association with Swine Innovation Porc, scientists are exploring the potential of the microbiome for improving pig health and reducing antibiotic use. Dr. Andrew Van Kessel, the Head of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science with University of Saskatchewan, says the medical world has begun to view the microbiome as being as important to metabolism as the liver, pancreas or kidneys.

"Certainly part of the microbiome are pathogens. We know pathogens get into our gastrointestinal tract, they become members of that microbiome and they cause us obvious problems in terms of health," Van Kessel said. "Microbiome research is more about understanding the non-pathogens and recognizing that within this large consortia of bacteria some members are potentially good. They have a benefit on the animal, they provide extra nutrients, they help the immune system, they help the animal protect itself against the pathogens. Some of those members of that consortia are bad. They're going to produce products that take nutrients away from the animal and make it less capable of protecting itself against that pathogen."

Dr. Van Kessel says the challenge is to develop management and feeding strategies that promote the good at the expense of the bad.