MENDELU Scientists Develop Substitute for Antibiotics Suitable For Piglets

The researchers have developed an antibiotic substitute for weaned piglets, based on derivatives of fatty acids and other natural substances. Photo credit: MENDELU.

Essential oils have been known for years in Chinese medicine for their antimicrobial effects. Now scientists from the Faculty of Agronomy of Brno’s Mendel University are also using the positive properties of these substances. In cooperation with a commercial partner, the researchers have developed an antibiotic substitute for weaned piglets, based on derivatives of fatty acids and other natural substances. 

This research is a response to recent regulations set by the European Union, which banned the use of antibiotics in animal feed. When the use of antibiotics in feed for weaned piglets was banned in 2006, their role was replaced by zinc in medicated doses. However, the piglets were unable to fully utilise this dose, and a large amount of zinc ended up in the environment. The mineral disturbed the soil microbiome and had a toxic effect on aquatic organisms, which led to a ban on zinc in animal feed last year.

“It was one of the impulses for us to try something new,” said Pavel Horký from the faculty’s Institute of Animal Nutrition and Forage. Horký and his colleagues previously focused on zinc nanoparticles, but five years ago, the team moved to the research of so-called phytoadditives, and began looking for a substitute for antibiotics among essential oils.

“We had an abundance of samples and variants in front of us,” said Horký. “For example, it was interesting that the garlic from China did not work at all. Although it is said to have antimicrobial properties, it actually contains very few essential oils. It cannot be compared with Czech garlic at all.” 

In the end, a combination of several essential oils and other substances had the best effects on animal health. The scientists cannot say what exactly the final dietary supplement contains, due to manufacturing secrecy. Active substances will be added to the feed in the form of transport particles, which the scientists designed themselves.

“We know that natural substances are degraded to a certain extent within the digestive tract. Our goal was therefore to develop protection for them,” explained Horký. In a particle, experts can send substances exactly where they need them. “In our case, it’s the small intestine, where enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli bacteria cause us the biggest problem,” he added.

During the research, the researchers focused on pig farms. “From the point of view of the life of the pig, the most risky period is the weaning of the piglets,” said Horký. “This becomes a very stressful period. The piglets are separated from their mother and are moved to a new environment. At the same time, they switch from milk to a mostly solid plant-based diet, all with an undeveloped digestive tract and intestinal barrier. Piglets, under this pressure, are thus more susceptible to diseases of various bacterial origins. Some breeders have losses of up to 40 percent during this period.” The newly developed product, which is expected to reach the market soon, should support and protect animal health in these cases.

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