The research, undertaken by scientists at the Mississippi State University, the University of Nebraska and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Agricultural Research Service Livestock Issues Research Unit, found that an oral dose of the lipid-producing rhodococcus opacus bacteria boosted immunity in young pigs by increasing circulating triglycerides, an essential source of energy for the immune system.
Jeff Carroll, research leader for the USDA-ARS’ Livestock Issues Research Unit, said that pigs are more susceptible to illness at weaning because of the changes to their diet and environment. Additionally, their age means they have relatively weak immune systems and the stress of weaning can mean the pigs eat less, reducing energy for fighting infection.
Oral supplements of live R.opacus give weanling pigs an alternative source of energy, thus boosting their ability to fight infection even if food is reduced.
Janet Donaldson, assistant professor in Biological Sciences Mississippi State University, said: “We could potentially strengthen the immune system by providing this bacterium to animals at a stage when they are in need of additional energy.
“By providing an alternative energy source, the pigs are most likely going to be able to fight off infections more efficiently.”
According to Donaldson, the 36 weanling-pigs in the study showed no side effects. The next stage of the research will be to test how pigs given R.opacus supplements react to an “immune challenge”, such as salmonella.