Hermetia illucens larvae meal (HILM) are rich in proteins and chitin, and represent an innovative feed ingredient for animals. However, little is known about the intestinal bacteria and immune homeostasis response of HILM as a fishmeal replacement on weanling piglets. Thus, this study aimed to investigate the changes in specific ileal and cecal bacterial populations and their metabolic profiles, and ileal immune indexes in weanling piglets fed with a diet containing HILM. A total of 128 weanling piglets were fed either a basal diet or 1 of 3 diets with 1%, 2%, and 4% HILM (HI0, HI1, HI2, and HI4, respectively). Each group consisted of 8 pens (replicates), with 4 pigs per pen. After 28 d of feeding, 8 barrows per treatment were euthanized, the ileal and cecal digesta, and ileal mucosa were collected for analyzing bacterial population and metabolic profiles, and immune indexes, respectively. Results showed that HILM increased (P < 0.05, maximum in HI2) the number of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in the ileum and cecum, but quadratically decreased (P < 0.05, minimum in HI2) the number of Escherichia coli. In the cecum, the number of Firmicutes, Ruminococcus, Clostridium cluster IV, and Prevotella showed a quadratic response to increasing (P < 0.05, maximum in HI2) HILM levels. Lactate and butyrate concentrations in the ileum and cecum were quadratically increased (P < 0.05, maximum in HI2) with increasing HILM levels. In the cecum, the amines, phenol, and indole compounds concentrations were quadratically decreased (P < 0.05, minimum in HI2) with increasing HILM levels, while total short-chain fatty acids and acetate concentrations were quadratically increased (P < 0.05, maximum in HI2). In the ileum, the TLR4, NF-κB, MyD88, and TNF-α mRNA expressions were quadratically decreased (P < 0.05, minimum in HI2) with increasing HILM levels, while the mRNA expression of IL-10, barrier function (MUC1, ZO-1, Occludin, and Claudin-2), and development-related genes (IGF-1, GLP-2, and EGF) was quadratically increased (P < 0.05, maximum in HI2). Furthermore, the changes in the mucosal gene expression were associated with changes in the bacterial populations and their metabolites. Collectively, these results showed that a diet supplemented with 2% HILM affected specific bacterial populations and metabolic profiles, and maintained ileal immune status. These findings provide new insights into the use of insect meal as a suitable alternative protein source for swine feeding.
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