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Project 1 - Improving pig health by advanced feeding management

Improving feed quality

Any slaughter pig production starts with appropriate feeding material. Provision of excellent feed quality is, apart from other factors, dependent on excellent climatic conditions and many feed sources are spread throughout the world. One of the most salient problems endangering the feed supply basis is the mycotoxin production by contaminating fungi, either on the field or during storage. In the pig production chain, mycotoxins cause dramatic failures in the reproduction cycle and lead to increased disease susceptibility and low performance during the fattening phase. Many concepts have been developed to reduce the impact of mycotoxins on the pig production chain including those that try to reduce the resorption or increase the destruction of the mycotoxins in the mammalian gut. The consortium in the K project will follow a completely other strategy that allows us to hamper the toxin production of moulds that contaminate the feeding grain.

Improving pig health by the modulation of gut microbiota

The most critical point for the provision of health fattening pigs is the weaning of the piglets. During this phase, usually associated with a change in the feeding and housing management, and driven by changes in the composition of the microbial population in the gut resulting in changes of the intestinal physiology, the piglets could become prone to diarrhoeal episodes that lead to a poor condition. The PVM concept strives for increasing the understanding how the gut microbiota can be modulated and stabilized. Modulation in this respect means developing feed additives and concepts facilitating the growth of bacteria beneficial for the gut health, to stabilize the diversity of the physiological microbiota, and to influence the microorganisms in such a way that pathogenic microbial species are quantitatively reduced or have no adverse effects on the intestinal epithelium. The ability to strengthen the intestinal barrier function and to prevent bacterial translocation from the gut to gut associated lymph nodes and to spread throughout the body is an additional factor to be taken into consideration.

Project 2 - Improving pig vaccination

Improved vaccination of juvenile animals by an effective stimulation of the juvenile immune system

Juvenile animals are confronted with a wide panel of pathogens and vaccination, an appropriate tool to fight against infections, often fails because of the fact that the porcine immune system is still not completely maturated. Recent data on the post natal maturation of the porcine immune system show that the composition of T-cell subpopulations changes in piglets during the first year life; so called T-cell receptor-cells represent in young animals a dominant fraction within the total T cell pool. It is known that cell receptor- cells bridge innate and adaptive immune responses. Therefore the goal of this part is to stimulate TcR-T lymphocytes to improve the efficacy of commercially available vaccines.

Determination of the efficacy of vaccination by definition of “correlates of protection”

This targets the monitoring of vaccination efficacy. To test the efficacy of vaccines, usually antibody titres against the respective pathogens are determined. Goal of this part is the detection of antigen-specific Interferon-producing T lymphocytes to use the IFN together with the antibody response for an effective monitoring of the efficacy of vaccines and to define for the respective vaccines so called “correlates of protection.

Project 3 - Improving quality assurance and quality management

Quality assurance in the post harvest area

Apart from disease prevention in the preharvest area, prevention could also be driven by meat inspection data. Pre and post mortem slaughter and meat inspection (SMI) is the oldest preventive concept that has been implemented in food chain management. The original aim however was to prevent consumers from zoonotic diseases rather than pigs from animal disorders (downstream approach). Meat inspection data however could also be used up stream the food production chain since they allow drawing conclusions about the most important sources of disease manifestation in the living animal. Unfortunately meat inspection data are not fully exploited in of the way of feedback systems that report the most pivotal findings back to the farmers. Reporting loops however could dramatically improve disease awareness at pig fattening farms and help to combat the occurrence of animal disease at the point of origin. A further focus therefore deals with predictors that are routinely reported at the slaughter line by inspection services, and we validate the data that are produced in Austria on the pig health status on a daily basis.
Validation is the means to indicate potential weak points either in the human meat inspection (low performing inspectors) or in the definition of the SMI parameter set itself, or in both, and shall identify if the situation necessitates melioration of either human SMI or the definition of the SMI parameters. The multitude of production and management protocols and strategies shall be investigated for potential correlation with SMI results and with economic outcome i.e. increase of profit at production level). By this scheme SMI reports can become valuable markers for profit decreasing weak points or flaws in management of production at farm level. By means of such an information feedback system, feeding back data from SMI to originating farms, the farmers are not only simply informed about their SMI outcome but can get tangible information and guidance for a healthier and more efficacious animal production.

Project 4 - The issue of consumer protection: Detection of pig associated microbial spoilage organisms and pathogens

Ensuring consumer confidence in pig products

Food safety has been an extraordinarily important topic in the recent years, and several disease outbreaks associated with the consumption of pork products have been documented (see status report EFSA, Anonymous, 2008). Since most zoonotic agents attack the pork chain due to insufficient hygiene during slaughter, post-harvest transmission plays a major role in consumer exposure scenarios.

Almost all microbial agents that are transmitted along the food chain have their natural habitat in the living animal. A central issue that must be tackled before any intervention is to reliably detect and quantify the causal organisms. Although having been of interest for many years, the development for and implementation of rapid diagnostic tools in the food testing area has been hampered by many reasons. Cultural techniques neither suffice the need for rapid data generation nor are they appropriate for detection of fastidiously growing bacterial species or even non-growing organisms such as viruses.

Moreover, for risk assessment studies, quantities of pathogens should be measured instead of pure presence/absence estimations. In collaboration with an Austrian and a German test system manufacturer, we will work on assay improvement and integrate nucleic acids based assays and biosensor technology with recently patented and novel sample treatments strategies developed for solid and liquid food commodities.