The potential for alternative plant protein sources to replace limited marine ingredients in fish feeds is important for the future of the fish farming industry. However, plant ingredients in fish feeds contain antinutritional factors that can promote gut inflammation (enteritis) and compromise fish health. It is unknown whether enteritis induced by plant materials is characterized by common or distinct gene expression patterns, and how using feeds with single vs mixed plant proteins may affect the gut transcriptome and fish performance. In this experiment, Atlantic salmon were used to investigate the transcriptome responses of distal gut to varying dietary levels (0–45 %) of soy protein concentrate (SPC) and faba bean (Vicia faba) protein concentrate (BPC) following an 8-week feeding trial. Soybean meal (SBM) and fish meal (FM) were used as positive and negative controls for enteritis, respectively. Gene expression profiling was performed using a microarray platform developed and validated for Atlantic salmon.
The results indicated that the different plant protein materials (SPC, BPC and SBM) generated substantially different gut gene expression profiles, with relatively few transcriptomic alterations common for all plant proteins used. When SPC and BPC were included together in the diet, they induced less extensive alterations of gut transcriptome than diets with either SPC or BPC singly, probably due to reduced levels of individual anti nutritional factors. The mixed plant protein diets were also associated with improved body composition of fish relative to the single plant protein diets, which may provide evidence for a link between the magnitude of changes in gut transcriptome and whole-animal performance.