Probiotics could give us safer pork products

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Probiotics, the friendly bacteria beloved of yoghurt advertisers, may be an effective substitute for growth promoting antibiotics in pigs, giving us safer pork products, according to scientists speaking (Wednesday 5 September 2007) at the Society for General Microbiology's 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh, UK, which runs from 3-6 September 2007.

Scientists from the UK's Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey have shown that probiotics – the good bacteria taken by millions of people worldwide – can reduce the disease-causing Salmonella bacteria which infect people and pigs.

“Salmonella is responsible for thousands of food poisoning cases each year with many of the cases originating from infected pork products. Recently the European Union banned the use of antibiotics in animal feed. Antibiotics were being regularly used as growth promoters to make pigs put on weight and protect them from diseases”, says James Collins from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.

“The EU ban is part of the effort to reduce the emergence of new antibiotic resistant bacteria, particularly as many disease-causing and antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA and clostridia are now so common”, says James Collins.

The scientists have also managed to advance the use of alternatives in animal testing by developing a technique based on NASA space technology, which allowed them to grow small pieces of pig gut in a 3-dimensional matrix which mimics the natural environment in a pig's gut.

“The 3D model specifically allows us to test the potential health benefits of probiotics as viable alternatives to growth promoters in pigs”, says James Collins. “This model is an essential first step as an alternative to the use of animals in scientific research, and means that we did not need to do the work in live pigs”.

The work by the Surrey team will contribute to reducing the number of pigs carrying Salmonella, and so cut its general spread in the environment. This in turn is expected to reduce the number of Salmonella related food poisoning cases reported every year.

The scientists have not yet discovered exactly how the probiotics work, but they hope that their new model will uncover the mechanism behind the way probiotics reduce pathogens in the gut and confer other health benefits.

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