A joint ERA-Net (BlueBio CoFund) and Havbruk project that seeks to improve aquaculture sustainability by modulating the feed-microbiome-host axis in Fish.



As the human population surges towards 10 billion, the production and consumption of aquaculture products such as fish is expanding. Therefore, efficient and environmentally sustainable practices are required to ensure long-term food security. To solve these challenges, attractive solutions include developing new feed ingredients and better broodstock genetics to improve fish production and welfare. Intriguingly, it has been shown that both feed and host genetics can modulate the gut microbiome of animals and thus influence its integral connection to host phenotype. The ambitious aim of ImprovAFish is to decipher the intimate functional coupling along the feed-microbiome-host axis in an applied context, with the emphasis on a promising ‘next generation’ functional feed ingredient (beta-mannan) that is known to promote beneficial microbiota in livestock and has shown promising preliminary results in fish.

Our approach is to jointly analyze how diet affects the metabolic function of the host and its microbiome as a single unit of action, using a novel and powerful framework called “holo-omics”. This entails monitoring how changes in enzymes and metabolites produced by microbiota correlates with uptake and metabolism of nutrients in the gut and liver of the fish. By doing this across life stages, different feeds and with recordings of key performance indices, we aim to identify exploitable interactions between specific feed components and microbiome functions that can be used to improve fish phenotype. In addition, associations between broodstock genetic variation, microbiome composition and diet will be determined, which will facilitate selection for fish with preferred gut microbiota. Ultimately ImprovAFish will facilitate optimization of improved and sustainable feeding strategies that are specifically tailored to host genetics (or vice versa), with an emphasis on socially responsible outcomes facilitated by a dedicated Responsible Research and Innovation process.


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Our project is highly relevant to the scope and objectives of this call, and in particular “Priority area 2”, as we combine state-of-the-art feed technology, new feed resources, and cutting-edge biotechnology in the form of multi-omic analyses to develop new approaches to improve aquaculture production in general. ImprovAFish will apply transdisciplinary approaches to address critical knowledge gaps related to the feed-microbiome-host axis in Atlantic salmon aquaculture production. Specifically, it will:

  • Test tailored mannan fibers as a new feed ingredient designed to select for putative beneficial microbiota in the Atlantic salmon gut.
  • Holistically characterize the functional potential of these (selected for) microbiomes, i.e. measure and model the metabolic products generated in the gut microbiome and their effect on the host phenotype.
  • Assess if breeding can be used to improve the microbiome composition and function and hence the feed-microbiome-host associations in broodstock.
  • Commit ourselves to addressing societal and ethical issues associated with the research and blue bioeconomy, and take inclusion of various stakeholders seriously, so as to facilitate responsiveness of the research consortium and a ‘social license to operate”.