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K-State Today

October 2, 2017



New swine disease research suggests microbiome modulation as possible alternative to antibiotics

By Joe Montgomery

Research at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine is uncovering intriguing potential for predicting and preventing swine diseases via the microbiome.

Megan Niederwerder, assistant professor in the diagnostic medicine and pathobiology department and the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory specializes in microbiome research and its effect on a variety of viral swine diseases, particularly respiratory diseases. Microbiome is a term used to describe the community of microorganisms that live on the skin and mucosal surfaces of animals.

"The most interesting part of this research is that microbiome characteristics prior to infection may determine outcome, meaning we could potentially intervene prior to exposure and improve response to disease," Niederwerder said.

Niederwereder recently published two journal articles on this topic, including original research "Increased microbiome diversity at the time of infection is associated with improved growth rates of pigs after co-infection with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) and porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2)" and a literature review "Role of the microbiome in swine respiratory disease." Both articles were published in the journal Veterinary Microbiology. Contributors to this work included Rebecca Ober, a 2017 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine graduate and current master's degree student; Bob Rowland, professor in the diagnostic medicine and pathobiology department; Giselle Cino, assistant professor in the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory; and collaborators at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

"Respiratory disease is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in humans and food-producing animals," Niederwerder said. "Our work with Lawrence Livermore is one of the first publications to show that pre-infection gut microbiome diversity and composition may impact outcome to infectious respiratory pathogens in pigs."

The researchers found that increased microbiome diversity before an infection was associated with reduced pneumonia and increased weight gain after co-infection.

"Ultimately, modulating the microbiome to have certain beneficial characteristics may be an alternative to antibiotics for growth promotion and reduced respiratory disease," Niederwerder said.

The research was supported by a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant, plus funding from the State of Kansas National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility Fund and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Derived Research and Development.