Researchers from Agroscope have developed a capsule which can take a gut sample unobtrusively from a live pig. This animal-friendly invention has revolutionary implications for microbiome research.
Billions of bacteria and microorganisms live in the gut, in pigs as well as in us humans. Together they form the gut flora, also called the microbiome. The microbiome is key for digestion, but also for defence against disease. The saying “health begins in the gut” applies to pigs as well as people. Environment, genetics and feed – the combination of all three influences the pig’s microbiome. A balanced diet encourages the growth of good gut flora. Medications and pathogens, however, can throw the microbiome out of balance.
The gut microbiome yields up its secrets
To promote gut health, researchers must be able to analyse the gut microbiome. Previously, this was only possible with stool samples. Because the microbiome in the gut is not the same microbiome as in the stool, however, researchers were looking for ways to take a sample directly from the gut.
The recently developed capsule is administered to the animal in pill form, like a conventional medication. Once it reaches the small intestine, it opens up for less than ten seconds, allowing the gut contents to flow in. It then moves through the intestine, is excreted with the stool, and the contents of the capsule are ready to be analysed.
On Agroscope’s experimental farm in Posieux, Canton of Fribourg, the capsule was administered to over 100 pigs ranging from one to six months old. Researchers were able to demonstrate that the capsule sample matched the contents of the small intestine, and hence that the capsule enables a non-invasive, animal-friendly examination of the contents of the gut.
Promoting gut health
This invention has revolutionary implications for microbiome research, allowing the comparison of the guts of healthy and sick pigs. With it, the influence of feeding measures on the gut microbiome can be analysed precisely. This opens up brand-new opportunities for understanding the digestive processes in the gut. The researchers can test measures that prevent digestive disorders and thus specifically improve the welfare of the pigs.
This represents a crucial step forward for research. The goal of raising pigs with suitable gut flora through appropriate feeding is closer in sight. These healthy animals are more resistant to disease and need less veterinary support. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research programme.
Last modification 03.11.2022