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Probiotics may protect piglets from E. coli infection

Beneficial bacteria could replace antibiotics in pig feed

DODGING DRUGS  Giving piglets probiotics may be an alternative to antibiotic treatments, which can lead to drug-resistant bacteria, researchers say. 

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Probiotic-laced pig feed slashes the number of infectious bacteria stuck to a piglet’s intestines, researchers report in the December Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The finding suggests that probiotic-packed food could protect piglets from common infections and replace controversial antibiotic treatments used on farms.

Carmen Bednorz of Freie Universität Berlin and colleagues gave 12 piglets normal feed and 12 others feed with the probiotic Enterococcus faecium, a bacterium already added to some animal feeds. From the pigs’ feces and intestines, the researchers collected more than 1,400 strains of Escherichia coli, a common bacterium that can be harmless or cause gastrointestinal and other infections. While the pigs’ guts had generally similar collections of E. coli, the researchers report that the piglets fed probiotics had fewer harmful E. coli adhering to their intestinal walls, which is where infections start. The probiotics, the authors suggest, elbows out dangerous bacteria in the pig’s guts.

Typically, farmers have knocked down bacteria in piglets with doses of antibiotics, a practice that can lead to drug-resistant bacteria. The authors suggest that probiotics could do the job without the risk of spurring resistance.

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