Early Weaning Impacts Gut Enzyme in Piglets, Study Finds
May 19, 2010 —
University of Guelph researchers have uncovered one of the reasons why piglets often struggle with illness and sometimes die when they are weaned from their mothers.
According to the new study, a gut enzyme involved in digesting phosphate and fighting off harmful bacteria is significantly compromised during the early-weaning process.
Published recently in The Journal of Nutrition, the researchers, Dale Lackeyram, a PhD student who worked on the study with animal and poultry science professor Ming Fan, weaned piglets from their mothers at 10 days old and placed them on a corn-and-soybean meal-based weaning diet for 12 days, similar to standard swine industry early-weaning practices. A second group of piglets was allowed to continue suckling during the 12-day study.
Researchers then examined intestinal tissue from the two groups and found the piglets that were switched over from sow's milk to solids had reduced levels of alkaline phosphatase and reduced function in the remaining enzymes.
Reducing the effectiveness of alkaline phosphatase has two major implications for a weaned animal, said Lackeyram. "From a nutritional standpoint, this enzyme plays a key role in making phosphorous available for bone growth and development," he said. "Currently, piglets are given supplements in their feed to make phosphorous more digestible, but this study shows that the animals don't express high enough levels of the enzyme needed to digest and make nutritional use of it."
Alkaline phosphatase is also part of the body's natural defense system, he says. "This enzyme is capable of acting on the toxic components of bacterial cells such as E coli. The impact of weaning on this enzyme is likely one of the contributing reasons why piglets often get sick, suffer from chronic bacterial-induced diarrhea and have trouble gaining weight when switched over to solids."
Based on this finding, Lackeyram suggests the supplementation of encapsulated alkaline phosphatase may provide a novel way of defending against bacteria and enhancing phosphorous nutrition during the weaning transition.
"Because this enzyme plays a similar role in humans as in pigs, this study provides a basis to further investigate the role of supplementing alkaline phosphatase during periods of digestive illness."
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