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  • Real Pork Trust Consortium

Prebiotics Enhance Digestion and Allow Pigs to Upcycle Food Products Efficiently

A farmer checks feed for piglets. Adding prebiotics to pigs' feed may help them digest and receive nutrients from upcycled food products
Photo: National Pork Board, Des Moines, Iowa

Dr. Pedro Urriola, an Assistant Professor of Animal Science at the University of Minnesota, was part of a research team focused on determining if prebiotics could help pigs digest and upcycle food products from other industries. The research findings from this study are detailed below.

Major Finding

Pigs can upcycle – or transform – leftover products from food and biofuel industries into safe and wholesome sources of protein. However, when pigs eat diets with leftover fibrous feed ingredients, they struggle to digest the nutrients and produce energy, which causes them to grow slowly and excrete nutrients to the environment rather than digest them. Researchers added a prebiotic to pigs’ diets to promote growth of healthy bacteria in their guts. This prebiotic came from a fungi called Aspergillus oryzae (AOP). Under the new diet, pigs could get an extra 35 units of energy per kilogram of food. The scientists tested distillers dried grains with solubles (corn), rice bran, and wheat middlings. The energy boost was more noticeable in pigs that ate distillers dried grains than those who ate rice bran or wheat middlings.


Why It Matters

Only 25% of Earth’s surface is arable land suitable for growing crops, but it is used for multiple purposes including biofuel and food production. Distillers dried grains with solubles, wheat middlings, and rice bran are leftover products from food and biofuel production often used in pig feed. However, their high fiber content is tough for pigs to digest. Researchers are exploring ways to improve the capacity of pigs for digestion and overall gut health, aiming to make sure pigs can absorb nutrients well. AOP is known to help break down fiber in cows but hasn't been extensively tested in pigs who have diets with high-fiber ingredients. This study showed AOP has potential in the pork industry, too! 


How the Research Was Conducted

An Animal Care and Use protocol was approved for this study with the goal of seeing AOP's effect on how pigs digest high-fiber diets. Researchers used 18 growing pigs, feeding them diets mainly from corn and soybeans but with added fiber from different leftover grains like corn, rice, or wheat. Half of the diets had 0.5% of AOP instead of some corn. Pigs were split into groups and given different diets for specific times. Researchers also added titanium dioxide to track digestion. Samples from the small intestine and feces were collected to check for nutrient excretion and calculate the amount of nutrients digested. 


Learn More

To learn more about this study, along with its implications for the pork industry and the food you eat, read the full peer-reviewed journal article here.

Prebiotics Enhance Digestion and Allow Pigs to Upcycle Food Products Efficiently
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