Feed efficiency (FE) is critical in pig production for both economic and environmental reasons. As the intestinal microbiota plays an important role in energy harvest, it is likely to influence FE. Therefore, our aim was to characterize the intestinal microbiota of pigs ranked as low, medium, and high residual feed intake ([RFI] a metric for FE), where genetic, nutritional, and management effects were minimized, to explore a possible link between the intestinal microbiota and FE. Eightyone pigs were ranked according to RFI between weaning and day 126 postweaning, and 32 were selected as the extremes in RFI (12 low, 10 medium, and 10 high). Intestinal microbiota diversity, composition, and predicted functionality were assessed by 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Although no differences in microbial diversity were found, some RFI-associated compositional differences were revealed, principally among members of Firmicutes, predominantly in feces at slaughter (albeit mainly for low-abundance taxa). In particular, microbes associated with a leaner and healthier host (e.g., Christensenellaceae, Oscillibacter, and Cellulosilyticum) were enriched in low RFI (more feed-efficient) pigs. Differences were also observed in the ileum of low RFI pigs; most notably, Nocardiaceae (Rhodococcus) were less abundant. Predictive functional analysis suggested improved metabolic capabilities in these animals, especially within the ileal microbiota. Higher ileal isobutyric acid concentrations were also found in low RFI pigs. Overall, the differences observed within the intestinal microbiota of low RFI pigs compared with that of their high RFI counterparts, albeit relatively subtle, suggest a possible link between the intestinal microbiota and FE in pigs.
- Residual feed intake