In my final year of my course at university I had to do a 60 page dissertation. I chose to carry mine out looking into probiotics and a potential new probiotic that could be used in the horse.
I decided to look what effect Actimel would have if it was given to the horse (a probiotic daily yoghurt drink for humans). I couldn't start feeding Actimel to horses in case it had a bad effect so I had to make a model of the equine digestive tract in the lab and look at the possible effects it would have on the horse. This would be the first step in testing it for it eventually being given to a horse.
The microbes in the horses hind gut are very important in breaking down the forage they eat. Probiotics work to help these by "topping up your friendly bacteria" and they were discovered over a hundred years ago. It is thought to help improve your digestion and often have benefits on the immune system. Part of my dissertation was a 10 page literature review of research that has been carried out into probiotics. There is currently only one probiotic on the market for horses in the U.K. so all supplements or feeds containing this have the same one. Many studies have found they improved digestion in horses but other studies have also found they have a limited effect. Probtioics have been found to be especially beneficial during stressful periods such as weaning or during a dietary shift.
The front cover of my dissertation.
I looked at a number of different factors when assessing the probiotic such as the DNA profile of the microbes in the hind gut, the pH, ammonia and volatile fatty acids. In the end I found that it had no effect on most of the factors I looked at compared to a control. However, I found it may have a negative effect on the pH. This meant it would not be safe to give actimel to a horse as it may have bad effects on the digestion. It made the pH more acidic which is related to the onset of laminitis, so this would not be advised.
More research needs to be carried out into probiotics as they have been found to have many beneficial effects but there is a wide variety of results in research. It is thought many factors can effect it such as the probiotic has to be able to survive fore gut digestion to reach the intestines and it has to be the correct probiotic for that animal.
Carrying out this dissertation was a lot of hard work, I spent hours in the lab repeating things that hadn't worked the first time due to technology failing me! But I was very happy with the final mark.