Livestock Research for Rural Development 30 (2) 2018 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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Prebiotic effect of Agave fourcroydes agavins in pigs in the growth stage

Yanelys García Curbelo, Lazara Ayala González2, R Bocourt Salabarría, Nereyda Albelo Dorta, Odalis Nuñez Peñalver, Yaneisy García Hernández, Y Rodríguez Fraga2, Magali Herrera Villafranca, Zoraya Rodríguez Alonso, Yolaine Medina Mesa and Mercedes G López Pérez1

Departamento de Fisiología y Bioquímica, Instituto de Ciencia Animal (ICA), Carretera central, Km 47 ½, San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque, Cuba
1 Departamento de Biotecnología y Bioquímica, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios de Avanzadas del IPN-Unidad Irapuato (CINVESTAV), México
2 Departamento de Alimentación y Manejo de Especies Monogástricas, Instituto de Ciencia Animal (ICA), Carretera central, Km 47 ½, San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque, Cuba


The use of prebiotics has increased in human and animal nutrition because of their productive performance and health benefits (Van Loo and Van Craeynest 2008). The objective of this study was to evaluate the prebiotic effect of Agave fourcroydes agavins from Cuba in pigs in the growth stage. One hundred and five (Yorkshire-Landrace x L35 hybrid) pigs of 33 days of age and average initial BW of 8.0±0.95 kg were used in the trial. They were fed in parallel form with a standard diet or diets supplemented with 0.25% or 0.50% of agavins from Agave fourcroydes from Cuba for 42 days. The productivity, hematological, microbial indicators, gastrointestinal organ weights were determined.

Supplementation with agavins did not influence the growth performance of the animals. Dietary Agave fourcroydes agavins increased relative organ weight of the small intestine, the cecum, spleen, thymus and colon and healthy lungs, with respect to the standard diet. The lymphocyte cells increased in serum, while pH indicators and coliforms in the colon decreased in the groups that consumed agavins. In conclusion, the inclusion of agavins from Agave fourcroydes in pig diets induced a prebiotic response and this constitutes a promising alternative with potential use in animal nutrition.

Key words: antibiotics, carbohydrates, imune response, microorganisms


Pig production in Cuba is characterized by high productive intensity, in which animals are subjected to different stress situations that cause imbalances in the intestinal microbiota, development of pathogenic microorganisms, immuno-suppression and inefficient feed conversion (Sulabo et al 2010).

To counteract these difficulties, for several decades, antibiotics were used as additives to promote animal growth. However, the indiscriminate use of these products caused residual effects in food, the development of resistant pathogenic strains and damage to the ecological balance of the gastrointestinal biota (Brunser et al 2006). That is why, from the year 2006, in the European Union and some other countries, the use of antibiotics for these purposes was prohibited (Van Loo and Vancraeynest 2008). Therefore, the scientific community and the industrial livestock sector face the challenge of finding new, safe and innocuous additives.

In this sense, in the nutrition of monogastric animals, the use of prebiotic additives is increasing, due to the beneficial effects they exert on health and productive behavior (Chuanlai et al 2005; Janssens and Van Loo 2006).

Prebiotics are defined as a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit (Gibson et al 2017). Agavins from the agave plant have been used as prebiotics in different investigations (García-Vieyra et al 2014; García-Curbelo et al 2015a).

The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of Agave fourcroydes agavins as a prebiotic in pigs.

Materials and methods


Agavines are carbohydrates extracted from the stems of Agaves. In this study we used the agavins from Agave fourcroydes which contain oligosaccharides with a DP < 10, linkages of the type β (2-1), β (2-6), and branches of the neo type  (García-Curbelo et al 2015b).

Animals, management and treatments

One hundred and five (Yorkshire-Landrace x L35 hybrid) pigs of 33 days of age and average initial BW of 8.0±0.95 kg were used in the trial. At the beginning of the experiment, pigs were randomly distributed into three dietary treatments by a randomized complete block design. There were eight replications (pens)  per treatment with 5 pigs per pen. The experiment lasted 75 days.

The treatments were a maize–soybean standard diet supplemented with 0, 0.25 and 0.50% of Agave fourcroydes agavins (STD; 0.25% AF-C; 0.50% AF-C). The composition of the diets was according to the nutrient requirements set by the National Research Council (1998). The diets were free of antibiotics and coccidiostats. Throughout all the experimental period, the pigs had ad libitum access to feed and water. All experimental protocols were approved by the Ethics Committee of the Institute of Animal Science., Cuba.

Sampling and measurements

Body weight (BW), feed intake (FI), body weight gain (BWG) and feed conversion ratio (FCR) were determine at the end of ethe xperiment period. Mortality rate was recorded on a daily basis.

At the end of the experiment three animals were selected according to the average BW within each group and sacrificed. The organs: stomach, small intestine, cecum, colon, liver, heart, pancreas, spleen, thymus, healthy lungs were separated, individually weighed, and expressed as percentage of live body weight.

At the end of the experiment, one pig was randomly chosen from each pen and blood samples were taken by jugular venipuncture. Blood samples were centrifuged at 2.000×g at 4°C for 30 min and serum was separated. Hemoglobin, hematocrit, leukocytes, lymphocytes, and monocytes were determined according to the blood biochemistry laboratory of the Institute of Animal Science procedures.

Colon contents were collected and the pH of the contents measured (pH meter AB150). For microbiological examination of colon contents the visual counts of total anaerobic bacteria, lactobacilli and coliforms were made. Selective media were used to identify total anaerobic bacteria (NRF) (Cadwell and Bryant 1966), lactic acid producing bacteria (LAB) (MRS) (Rogosa et al 1951), and coliforms in red-violet agar and bile (BioCen 2001),. The bacterial counts from the samples were performed according to procedures described by Hungate (1969).

Statistical analyses

Results are expressed as mean values with their standard errors. Differences between the groups were evaluated using one-way ANOVA followed by simple classification analysis . Duncan’s (1955), multiple-range test was employed in the apprppropriate cases through the use of INFOSTAT (Balzarini et al 2001). Significant differences were considered at p< 0.05.


Supplementation with agavins did not influence the growth performance of the animals (Table 1). However, in the pigs that consumed agavins, the relative weights of the small intestine in AF-C 0.50% treatment with contein of 6.5 % as compared with the CTL group. In the agavins groups (AF-C 0.25%; AF-C 0.50%), there were increases in relative weights of the cecum contents of 22% and 26%; in colon contents of 5% and 6.17%; in spleen contentts 6.83% and 13.04% and thymus contents of 42% and 61%, as compared with the control group (Table 2).

Table 1. Effect of Agave fourcroydes agavins on production indicators of growing pigs



AF-C 0.25 %

AF-C 0.50 %


Initial weight, kg





Final weight, kg





Feed intake, kg





Weight gain, kg





Feed conversion





Mortality, pigs




Also, the weight of healthy lungs in the agavins group increased with respect to the control by 16.8 and 35.6%, for the AF-C 0.25% and AF-C 0.50%, treatments, respectively. The other gastrointestinal organs were not affected by the administration of agavins.

Table 2. Effect of Agave fourcroydes agavins on organ weights

Organs, g/kg LW


0.25 %

 0.50 %







Small intestine





Two cecum

























Spleen Thymus





Healthy lungs (%)





Probability of significance: * P < 0.05, **P < 0.01.
Values followed by different superscripts in each row are different at p <0.05).

The hematological indicators (table 3) are in the range established as normal values ​​for the species and category studied, only the lymphocytes increased with the addition of agavins with respect to the STD groups by 50% and 53%, respectively.

Table 3. Effect of agavins on hematological indicators sampled



0.25 %

0.50 %


Hemoglobin, g/dL





Hematocrit, %





Leukocytes, x10-9





Lymphocytes, %





Monocytes, %





Probability of significance: * P < 0.05.
Values followed by different superscripts in each row are significantly different (P < 0.05).

 A decrease in colon pH ws observed in the pigs fed agavins. There was also a decrease in the population of coliforms. There were no differences in the other microbial groups analyzed.

Table 4. Effect of agavins on pH and microorganisms in the colonic content



0.25 %

0.50 %

± ES

Total bacteria, x10-9





Lactobacillus, x10-7





Coliformes, x10-6

3.19 b

1.50 a

1.92 a







Values followed by different superscripts in each row are different at  p< 0.05


No differences were observed in productive traits of growing pigs when agavins of Agave fourcroydes were included in the diet. In the scientific literature there are variable results with respect to the effect that these compounds exert on the productive performance. It is to be expected that the  action of these compounds will be manifested to a greater extent when the animals are subjected to stressful conditions (Chuanlai et al 2005; Shim 2005). In evaluating the use of prebiotics  it is necessary to take into account that their effects depend on the type of compound, the dose, the animal species, the conditions of exploitation, among others (Piva and Rossi 1999).

The intake of agavins increased cecum and colon weight, at both levels of intake. Agavins β links are not degraded by the digestive enzymes of the host in the upper gastrointestinal tract, reaching the large intestine unchanged, a site with high microbial populations, where beneficial bacteria use these compounds as an energy source, consequently increasing generation of short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which may result in an increase in crypt depth, cell density and cell proliferation (Santos et al 2006).

The pH in the colon was reduced in the pigs that consumed agavins. The SCFA were not determined in this study, but it us likely they were the cause of the lower pH and other positive effects in the gastrointestinal tract.

The dose differences of these products might influence their degree of fermentation by the microbiota. In previous studies, it was reported that when agavins of Agave forucroydes were added to mice diets the concentration of butyrate in the cecal digesta increased (García-Curbelo et al 2015a). Rehman et al (2008) reported that adding inulin to broiler diets increased the butyrate concentration in the cecum. Butyrate provides energy for epithelial growth (Topping and Clifton 2001) and is involved directly or indirectly on various mechanisms such as cellular differentiation, growth, permeability, and gene expression (Mroz et al 2006).

The increased production of SCFA as a result of administration of prebiotics could result in increased intestinal acidity which may also contribute to the suppression of pathogens in the pig gut (Wall et al 2012). In this study with the use of agavins a decrease in coliforms was achieved. 

An important result was the increase in the percentage of healthy lungs found in the groups that consumed agavines. There was also a lower incidence of respiratory disorders which are very frequent in growing pigs in tropical countries (Cabrera et al 2006). These results make it possible to avoid the use of antibiotics in pig production, and to increase the number of healthy animals.

The immunomodulatory properties of prebiotics have been described in different researches (Dubert-Ferrandon et al 2008; Madej et al 2015). This study showed that the agavins increased relative weight of spleen and thymus. These organs are related to the immune response and they are very important during the first stage of the animals’ life (Onifades 1997).

The reasons why supplementation with agavins enhanced the immune system of pigs were not investigated in this study, but prebiotics are known to prevent the colonization of pathogens by adhering to,  and blocking of the intestinal surface. This stimulates the intestinal immune-competent cells, associated to the lymphoid issue; prebiotics notify the immune system through the activation of macrophages and favor high levels of immunoglobulin (local and systemic) (Seifert and Watz 2008; Vidanarachchi et al 2013).

The hematological indicator values in this study agree with those reported as normal for the species and animal category (Sotolongo et al 2006; Gélvez 2009). Only the lymphocytes were increased with the addition of agavins with respect to the control, which may be related to the stimulation of the immune system exerted by these compounds.



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Received 11 January 2018; Accepted 24 January 2018; Published 1 February 2018

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