Published online 6 June 2007
All humans have unique microbiota — bacteria that live in the gut of a healthy organism. These comprise an important 'organ' that can influence the individual's metabolism, drug response and the development of many non-infectious diseases. However, owing to the vast diversity and host specificity of the microbiota, as well as ethical concerns, it is difficult to perform research directly on human subjects. Now Liping Zhao at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and co-workers1 have successfully transplanted the gut microbiota from a human to pigs — a process that can be used in the study of human-gut ecology.
The researchers regularly fed faecal suspension from a healthy boy, as well as sterilized milk formulas, to newborn germfree piglets for the first ten days after birth. They then analysed the gut microbiota of the piglets using a genetic-profiling technique. The result showed that a complex composition of gut microbiota had been established in all the piglets with minimal variation. Although the microbial community in the guts of the piglets was not completely identical to that in the human donor, there was a close resemblance in the DNA sequence composition between the two. More importantly, two human-gut bacterial groups of considerable scientific interest — bifidobacteria and Bacteroides — were found to have colonized in the piglets' gut.
The digestive systems of humans and pigs are similar in both physiology and anatomy. Therefore, the new pig model has advantages over the existing rodent-based model, and can be used to screen new drugs and test their toxicity.
The authors of this work are from:
Department of Bioscience and Biotechnology, College of Life Science and Biotechnology, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China; Key Laboratory of Systems Biomedicine, Ministry of Education, Shanghai Center for Systems Biomedicine, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China; Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Biology, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China; Key Laboratory of Animal Physiology and Biochemistry, Ministry of Agriculture, School of Veterinary Science, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing, China; Tyco Clinical Institute, Shanghai, China; School of Pharmacy, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China; Nestle R&D Center Shanghai Ltd, Shanghai, China.