Also known as 'good bacteria', probiotics naturally occur in the gut of humans and other animals and are understood to boost immunity and help prevent bad bacteria from causing illness. For the food industry, most of the interest in probiotics to date has stemmed from their addition to food products (particularly dairy). By swallowing probiotics in a formulation that protects them through the digestive process, the aim is to boost the population of good bacteria in the gut. Now, however, it seems there may be grounds for probiotics to be fed to pigs to reduce incidence of salmonella - an idea that could not only open a new sales channel for suppliers but also increase the safety of food products and decrease salmonella cases in humans. Researchers from the UK's Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey, reported positive results from a 3D model of a pig gut. Their findings are presented today at the meeting of Society for General Microbiology in Edinburgh, UK. The experiment involved a special technique based on NASA space technology that enabled the researchers to grow pieces of pig gut in a 3-dimentional matrix that replicates the natural environment inside a pig's gut. "The 3D model specifically allows us to test the potential benefits of probiotics as viable alternatives to growth promoters in pigs," said researcher James Collins. The full methodology and results of the study have not been seen by FoodNavigator-USA.com. The researchers said that although they have seen benefits from the probiotics, they have not yet established exactly how they work to reduce pathogens and bring about other health benefits. They hope the model will prove instrumental in shedding light on the mechanism. "[The model] is an essential first step as an alternative to the use of animals in scientific research, and means we did not need to do the work in live pigs," said Collins. The global retail market for probiotic dietary supplements for humans was valued by Euromonitor International at just over US$1bn in 2005, and was seen to have experienced 46.9 per cent growth between 2002 and 2005. Growth of 32.6 per cent is predicted through 2010.