Scientists from three institutions are collecting and characterizing samples to inform future research
By Jackie Clark
Researchers from eastern and western Canada are coming together to map the pig gut microbiome and investigate associations with pig performance.
Dr. Ben Willing, an associate professor in the faculty of agricultural, life and environmental science at the University of Alberta, is partnering with colleagues from the University of Saskatchewan and University of Guelph to collect samples from Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The researchers characterize microbial populations from those samples and sus out any trends associated with piglet performance.
The scientists are collecting samples from real Canadian pig producers from a range of operations, including those that raise pigs without antibiotics and conventional producers with different health statuses.
“We need at least 10 sows farrowing at the same time,” Willing explained. “We take samples from the sows and then we also take samples from their piglets. We pick four average piglets within the litter.”
The researchers track the piglets until market weight, so “we have an estimation of their overall performance,” he added. That way, Willing and his colleagues can “see whether that early life microbial community is actually indicative of how well they’re going to do later on.”
The scientists are characterizing microbial communities using mostly 16S sequencing, a common method used to identify, classify, and quantify microbes in biological samples using a particular bacterial gene.
“Paired with that we’re doing some metagenomic sequencing,” Willing explained. “We can get all of the DNA of all of the bacteria that are in the microbial community, and then we can identify all of the characteristics, down to a strain level of some of the more abundant microbial members. But that’s a much smaller sample set.”
Combining 16S sequencing and metagenomics can help the researcher make predictions on microbial functionality.
“We’re coming very near to the end of the sample collecting phase,” Willing said. The scientists will be completing sequencing and analysis over the coming year. They aim to answer several questions:
“In Canada, what do our pig populations have? Can we define the core microbial members that are found across the country? Are there any of those that are associated with better or worse performance?” asked Willing.
Overall, the project “is a bit of a roadmap,” he explained. “This work is intended to guide subsequent mechanistic work.”
These researchers are building a base understanding of the pig gut microbiome to help inform future investigation.
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