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The probiotic concept is nearly 100 years old and goes back to Elie Mechnikoff who noticed that rural inhabitants in a region of Bulgaria with exceptionally high life expectancy consumed large amounts of fermented milk products containing high numbers of Lactobacillus bulgaricus (Lactobacillus acidophilus). He proposed the hypothesis that the oral intake of those bacteria may be capable to control bacterial fermentation in the intestinal tract of men exerting in this way health promoting effects. Especially during the last decade the probiotic concept has been applied in animal nutrition as well. In animal nutrition probiotics are defined as microorganisms which are applied as feed additives and lead to beneficial effects for the host animals due to an improvement of the intestinal microbial balance (according to Fuller, 1989) or of the properties of the indigenous micro-flora (according to Havernaar et al., 1992).
In the EU 17 preparations containing microorganisms are authorized for the use as feed additives. They belong to the category of zootechnical additives. i.e. “additives used to affect the performance of animals in good health or used to affect favourably the environment” (EU regulation No 1831/2003). The authorized micro-organisms are of various origin e.g. defined strains of Enterococcus faecium, spores of Bacillus spp. or strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Although the majority of studies on the effectiveness of probiotics in piglets point towards improved animal performance, these effects are rarely significant and not consistent. However, when the incidence of post weaning diarrhoea was recorded, almost all studies with different probiotic strains showed a significant reduction of diarrhoea. With regard to the mode of action of probiotics already the vague definition implies that the underlaying mechanisms are as yet not well understood. Discussed levels of response to probiotics are modifications of the intestinal microbiota and nutrient availability (morphology/histology of the GIT, transport kinetics of nutrient, microbial metabolism) as well as a modified immune response.
With the aim of providing more reliable data on the mode of action of probiotics an interdisciplinary research project was started four years ago in Berlin. This project is supported by the German Research Foundation and is entitled “Integrative analysis of the modes of action of probiotics in pigs” (Research Unit, DFG, FOR 438). Two micro-organisms of different ecological origin, i.e. Enterococcus faecium NCIMB 10415 and Bacillus cereus var. toyoi were studied when applied to sows and/or to piglets with regard to effects on performance of piglets, incidence of diarrhea, morphology and histology of intestinal mucosa, barrier function and transport properties of the small intestine, intestinal autochthonous microbiota and intestinal pathogens, parameters of the immune defense and gene expression pattern of intestinal mucosal cells.
The multidisciplinary research group will take the opportunity of this conference to present and discuss the preliminary results of this project within the following seven contributions.