The effect of commensal microbiota and feeding corn or wheat/barley-based diets on the apparent gastrointestinal absorption of dl-methionine (MET) and 2-hydroxy-4-methylthiobutanoic acid (MHA-FA) was studied in conventional (n = 32) and gnotobiotic pigs (n = 24). Conventional pigs (CON) were vaginally delivered and sow-reared until weaning at 14 days of age. Gnotobiotic pigs were derived by caesarian section and reared in HEPA (high efficiency particulate air)-filtered isolator units with ad libitum access to a milk-based formula. Corn or wheat/barley-based diets were fed to all pigs from 14 to 24 days of age. At 24 days of age, after an overnight fast, pigs were fed 20 g/kg BW of experimental diet supplemented with 107 Bq of either 3H-l-MET or 3H-l-MHA-FA per kg of feed and chromic oxide (0.5% wt/wt). Pigs were killed for sample collection 3 h after consuming the meal. Residual 3H-MET and 3H-MHA-FA were estimated in gastrointestinal contents as the ratio of 3H : chromic oxide in digesta samples to the ratio of 3H : chromic oxide in feed. In CON pigs, feeding a wheat/barley-based diet increased (P < 0.05) total aerobes, whereas supplementation with MHA-FA increased (P < 0.05) total aerobes and lactobacilli populations in proximal small intestine (SI). Among the gnotobiotic pigs, bacterial contamination occurred such that eight pigs (two isolators) were monoassociated with a Gram-negative bacteria closely related to Providencia spp. and 16 pigs (four isolators) were monoassociated with Gram positive Enterococcus faecium. Species of monoassociated bacterial contaminant and diet composition did not affect residual methionine or MHA-FA in digesta. In both CON and monoassociated (MA) pigs, methionine and MHA-FA were retained in stomach (92%) but disappeared rapidly from proximal SI. Residual methionine and MHA-FA in digesta was not different in MA pigs; however, in CON pigs, less (P < 0.01) apparent residual methionine was found in digesta recovered at 25% (from cranial to caudal) and 75% of SI length compared with MHA-FA. Apparent residual methionine was 16% and 8% compared with 34% and 15% for MHA-FA, at the 25% and 75% locations, respectively. In proximal SI tissue, significantly (P < 0.05) higher radioactivity (cpm/mg wet tissue) was associated with MET pigs (8.56 ± 0.47) as compared to MHA-FA ones (5.45 ± 0.50). This study suggests that microbial metabolism of MHA-FA increases retention in small intestinal digesta relative to methionine and contributes, in part, to the lower bioefficacy of MHA-FA compared to methionine.
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