The gastro-intestinal tract hosts a complex microbial ecosystem that helps regulate the physiological, immunological and nutritional functions of the pig so disturbances within this microbiota can have profound effects on porcine health and disease. The gut microbiota is shaped by the environment, immune pressures and diet. The weaning transition represents a critical time-point that can interfere with intestinal development and cause dramatic shifts in the gut microbiota. Previously, in-feed antibiotics were used to counteract the adverse effects of weaning but an EU-wide ban since 2006 has propelled the search for safe and sustainable alternatives within the livestock industry. Studies have indicated that dietary fatty acids are efficient in terms of minimising weaning disorders including elevated incidence of enteric disease and immunodepression and thus represent a promising alternative to antibiotics. Furthermore, previous research has indicated that including fatty acid mixtures in the porcine diet has a positive effect on overall animal performance, increasing growth rate and enhancing feed conversion ratios. It is thought that these health benefits and production gains stem from the ability of fatty acids to mediate the effects of gut microbiota on intestinal immune function through modifying the proportions of microorganisms present. The aim of this research was to use deep sequencing and metagenomic methods to explicitly explore the influence fatty acid supplementation has on shaping the intestinal microbiome during weaning. Results have indicated that fatty acids play a role in modifying the intestinal microflora, establishing an environment that favours the growth of commensal species such as Lactobacillus.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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