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Can aquafeeds be specifically designed to induce desirable epigenetic modifications?

Can aquafeeds be specifically designed to induce desirable epigenetic modifications?


The year 2023 has started and we are enthusiastically about new projects that always spark our curiosity to learn more!

Today, we want to share a fascinating and hot topic: the intricate relationship between epigenetics and nutritional programming, and how they can have significant, life-long and, in some cases, intergenerational effects on animal health and productivity.

First of all, let’s explain what epigenetics is. Epigenetics refers to the regulation of gene expression through modifications to the epi-genome, i.e. without changing DNA sequence. When we think about gene dynamics, we have to think of epigenetic modifications as switches, like lights. As switches can turn the lights dimmer or brighter, epigenetic modifications can turn gene expression up or down, which may result in variations in physical or fitness traits.

Epigenetic modifications can arise from exposure to environmental factors such as diet, toxins, stress, and disease, and they can have significant impacts on an organism’s traits and health. At the cellular level, it is achieved through histone modifications, DNA methylation, and through the interaction of DNA with noncoding RNAs such as miRNA or regulatory elements (e.g. enhancers, promoters and transcription factors).

Featured image: Thiago Petagna, Pexels license.

One of the most powerful environmental factors that affects performance and health traits in farmed fish is the diet. Changes in feed ingredients can result in alterations to DNA methylation which in turn improves certain traits. For instance, Saito and colleagues (2021) showed that micronutrients in the feed can directly affect the epigenome of farmed salmon in a dose-dependent manner, in particularly the regulation of genes related to lipid metabolism.

Adam and colleagues (2022) showed that feed given at the pre-smolt stage may introduce life-long changes in epigenetic profiles, potentially improving post-molt growth. This study highlights the possibility of early nutritional programming to improve long-term performance. 

It also has been reported that the environmental alterations in broodstock spawning season play a crucial role in fine-tuning the epigenetic modifications that influence the nutrient status of the next generation via nutritional and metabolic programming.

Even if fish are fed a nutritional balanced diet, changes in abiotic factors will alter the nutritional status in tissues and organs which can direct future programming with intergenerational epigenetic and phenotypic consequences in mature offspring. The research also revealed that the epigenetic modifications in male DNA in gonadal tissue are highly sensitive to nutritional factors.

Factors such as maternal nutrition, feeding regimes, nutrient status, temperature, and light must be controlled to fine-tune the epigenetic tags in the offspring to achieve specific desired traits or prevent undesirable phenotypes regarding the nutrient composition of the egg.

In summary, epigenetic has become a hot research topic in animal nutrition, genetics and breeding due to its great potential to positively induce disease resistance, stress tolerance and attain better sex ratios in the aquatic organism though changes in farming environment.

By understanding the environmental factors that impact major epigenetic mechanisms, we can harness this knowledge to create more favorable phenotypes in farmed fish and shellfish in aquaculture.

Although the study of epigenetics in aquaculture species is still in its early stages, it holds tremendous potential for the future. Despite the many questions that remain unanswered, the research in this field should be prioritized. It may play a significant role in the future of aquaculture through epigenetic programing by fostering better coordination between feeds producers and hatcheries.

Are you ready to discover boundless potential of epigenetics in the future of aquaculture? We are here to offer you the best advice about this topic.

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