Diversity is crucial for a functional pig microbiome
The microbiome is the microbial population contained in the gut and it plays a key role in digestion and in disease resistance.
The gut microbiome, and why you should care about it, will be discussed as part of a Swine Innovation Porc session set for 7 January, in conjunction with the Banff Pork Seminar.
Speaking to Farmscape, Dr Emma Allen-Vercoe, a Professor of Microbiology with the University of Guelph and a Tier-1 Canada Research Chair, says we don't yet fully understand what distinguishes between a healthy and an unhealthy microbiome.
"What we do know are a few tantalising things that are pointing us in the right direction and this is where there's a lot of research being done," says Dr Allen-Vercoe.
"What we do know is that, if you have a very high diversity microbiome - in other words if you have lots of different species present - that generally means... that you have a very healthy gut.
"The reason for that is, if you think about that in terms of a rainforest. If you are standing in the middle of a rainforest and you were to close your eyes and someone plucked away one of the species of the rainforest while you weren't looking, when you opened your eyes again, it would probably take you awhile to figure out what was missing.
"Probably because, from the point of view of the ecosystem, there's so much there and even the function of that ecosystem is not going to be affected because something else does the work of the thing which has been lost.
"In an unhealthy microbiome, as a sort of contrast to that, there's less diversity and so you have an ecosystem which is very poor.
"Perhaps we think about a desert or something like that where the species that are present are very few and if you were take one away it would be very obvious and the ecosystem probably wouldn't do very well.
"The main factor, I think, that we know now that distinguishes between a healthy and an unhealthy microbiome of the gut is this lack of diversity."
Dr Allen-Vercoe says the more diversity you have, the more likely you are to be healthy.