Published: 09 October 2014

Unravelling the link between gut bacteria and horse health

Vet School researchers are set to create a laboratory model of the horse’s hindgut in a bid to discover new ways of preventing disease and maintaining health through dietary intervention.

Horses are remarkable creatures, achieving high levels of athletic performance on some of the lowest energy food available. The secret of this success? Hindgut bacteria.

In spite of their huge importance to health and performance, very little is known about the horse’s gut bacteria and how this vital microbial community varies in health and disease. Disturbances in gut bacterial populations are known to affect not just digestion but immunity, risk of cancer, bodyweight and even behaviour.

Researchers at the University of Surrey, in collaboration with colleagues from Reading and Liverpool universities, have been awarded £100,000 funding by Petplan Charitable Trust, one of the UK’s largest animal welfare charities, to create a laboratory model of the horse’s hindgut.

The two-year project will see the development of a laboratory model of the horse’s hindgut at the University of Surrey. The research team will employ nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology at the University of Reading to evaluate changes in the bacterial metabolites, and next-generation gene sequencing at the University of Liverpool to characterise bacterial populations.

Professor Chris Proudman, Head of the School of Veterinary Medicine, lead researcher and RCVS Specialist in Equine Gastroenterology, said, “Bringing the horse’s gut into the laboratory will allow us to characterise gut bacterial populations and to measure how these change in response to changes in diet and to medication such as antibiotics. Intestinal disease (colic) is the single biggest cause of death in horses; this work will allow us to identify novel ways of maintaining a healthy gut through dietary intervention.”

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