Repository logo

The effects of antibiotic use on the dynamics of the microbiome and resistome in pigs.

Published version

Repository DOI

Change log


Tams, Katrine Wegener  ORCID logo
Hansen, Julie Elvekjær  ORCID logo
Spiegelhauer, Henrik 
Strøm-Hansen, Alexander Damm 


Antibiotics are widely used in pig farming across the world which has led to concerns about the potential impact on human health through the selection of antibiotic resistant pathogenic bacteria. This worry has resulted in the development of a production scheme known as pigs Raised Without Antibiotics (RWA), in which pigs are produced in commercial farms, but are ear-tagged as RWA until slaughter unless they receive treatment, thus allowing the farmer to sell the pigs either as premium priced RWA or as conventional meat. Development of antibiotic resistance in pig farming has been studied in national surveys of antibiotic usage and resistance, as well as in experimental studies of groups of pigs, but not in individual pigs followed longitudinally in a commercial pig farm. In this study, a cohort of RWA designated pigs were sampled at 10 time points from birth until slaughter along with pen-mates treated with antibiotics at the same farm. From these samples, the microbiome, determined using 16S sequencing, and the resistome, as determined using qPCR for 82 resistance genes, was investigated, allowing us to examine the difference between RWA pigs and antibiotic treated pigs. We furthermore included 176 additional pigs from six different RWA farms which were sampled at the slaughterhouse as an endpoint to substantiate the cohort as well as for evaluation of intra-farm variability. The results showed a clear effect of age in both the microbiome and resistome composition from early life up until slaughter. As a function of antibiotic treatment, however, we observed a small but significant divergence between treated and untreated animals in their microbiome composition immediately following treatment, which disappeared before 8 weeks of age. The effect on the resistome was evident and an effect of treatment could still be detected at week 8. In animals sampled at the slaughterhouse, we observed no difference in the microbiome or the resistome as a result of treatment status but did see a strong effect of farm origin. Network analysis of co-occurrence of microbiome and resistome data suggested that some resistance genes may be transferred through mobile genetic elements, so we used Hi-C metagenomics on a subset of samples to investigate this. We conclude that antibiotic treatment has a differential effect on the microbiome vs. the resistome and that although resistance gene load is increased by antibiotic treatment load, this effect disappears before slaughter. More studies are needed to elucidate the optimal way to rear pigs without antibiotics.



Antibiotic resistance, Metagenomes, Microbiome, Pig farming

Journal Title

Anim Microbiome

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Grønt Udviklings- og Demonstrations Program (34009-17-1246)