Impact of early gut microflora colonization on behaviour in pigs: Investigating the microbiota-gut-brain axis

Last changed: 13 September 2023
Photo: Pigs with numbers written on their back nosing on a person in the box.

In nature, pigs have a varied diet and are exposed to many different bacteria from early life. This results in a large variety in their gut microbiota. In a farm setting, pigs are fed standard diet and live in a "clean" environment, which leads to less variety as well as an altered balance between different types of bacteria in the gut microbiota. A more mature microbiota accelerates intestinal maturation, thereby reducing post-weaning enteric health problems in piglets.

The aim of this project is to identify strategies that will stimulate early explorative sampling of food items in piglets and thereby initiate early maturation of the gut and the gut microbiota.

Diet ingredient composition will have an impact on the gut and its' microbiome composition. To study the impact of early feed ingestion we will give piglets an oral supplement of pre- or probiotics. Our working hypothesis is that intestinal microbiota colonization pattern exerts long-term effects on intestinal homeostasis with impact on behaviour through the microbiota-gut-brain axis. We will investigate this by documenting of the gut microbiome, cognitive tests and observations of growth, health and behaviour. In a parallel study we will also investigate the relationship between gut microbiota and tail biting behaviour. Reducing piglet diarrhoea and tail biting will not only improve pig welfare, but will contribute to a reduction in the use of antibiotics. This project is financed by Formas and Stiftelsen lantbruksforskning and is a part of Centre of Excellence in Animal Welfare Science.

Contact: Else Verbeek