Probiotics could reduce the disease-causing Salmonella bacteria which infect people and pigs, said the scientists while presenting their research at the Society for General Microbiology's 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh, UK, which runs from 3-6 September 2007.
"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," said 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," he added.
The scientists also developed a technique based on NASA space technology that helped them advance the use of alternatives in animal testing. The technique enabled scientists to grow small pieces of pig gut in a 3-dimensional matrix that mimicked 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. 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," said James Collins.
Although the scientists have yet to find out how the probiotics work, they hope that their new model will uncover the mechanism behind the way probiotics reduce pathogens in the gut and confer other health benefits.
They believe that their work will contribute to reducing the number of pigs carrying Salmonella, and thereby reduce the number of Salmonella related food poisoning cases reported every year.