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Intl. Team Studying Antibiotic Overuse in Pigs

Two piglets

(Skeeze, Pixabay)

5 May 2022. Researchers in Europe and the U.S. are investigating gut processes in pigs to reduce antibiotics commonly used against infections, a source of antibiotic resistance. The international project, known by the extended acronym Pig-Paradigm, is funded by a grant of DKK 150 million (US$ 21.3 million) from the Novo Nordisk Foundation in Copenhagen.

Pig-Paradigm seeks to better understand intestinal functions in piglets, who often suffer from bacterial infections and diarrhea when weaned from their mothers, a frequent disorder resulting in many early deaths and large financial losses for farmers. Because these infections are so common, farmers routinely treat piglets with antibiotics, which in turn is a major contributor to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.

When bacteria or fungi mutate to evade the effects of antibiotics, current drugs become less effective, leaving patients with fewer options for treating infections. The problem, which World Health Organization says is reaching crisis proportions, is compounded by overuse of antibiotics in farm animals and humans, creating more opportunities for microbes to mutate and become resistant to current drugs. A study published in January 2022 estimates that in 2019, nearly five million deaths worldwide can be traced to bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Improve diets to reduce infections

“Antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest global threats to our health,” says Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, CEO of Novo Nordisk Foundation in a statement. “By supporting the project, the Novo Nordisk Foundation wants to contribute to generating new knowledge that can help to reduce the use of antibiotics in the pig farming industry and thereby counteract the development of resistant bacteria.”

The Pig-Paradigm project is a group of human and animal health researchers in Denmark, the Netherlands, and U.S. that aims to find ways of boosting intestinal resilience of piglets, and thus reduce the need for widespread antibiotic use by farmers. For example, researchers plan to study interactions among natural bacteria, fungi, and other microbes in piglets’ intestines for ways of improving their diets to reduce infections, and thus cut antibiotic use.

“We know that diet and nutrition strongly affect the composition and function of the gut microbiome among both humans and pigs,” says Charlotte Lauridsen, professor of animal sciences at Aarhus University in Tjele, Denmark, “Obtaining knowledge about what characterizes a healthy and an unhealthy gut will enable us to design the optimal feed-induced gut microbiome, which can strengthen the immune response and the health of the pigs. This will avoid the need for antibiotics.”

In addition to Aarhus University, researchers from University of Copenhagen and Aalborg University in Denmark, Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and University of California in Davis are taking part in Pig-Paradigm. Maria Marco, professor of food science and technology at UC-Davis is leading the part of Pig-Paradigm dealing with dietary improvements in pigs. Marco says the project will help “decode the complexities of the digestive tract which have thus far eluded researchers,” adding “With this knowledge, we will be able to innovate to provide new approaches needed to prevent antibiotic resistance spread.”

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