Open Access Research article

Transcriptomic and physiological responses to fishmeal substitution with plant proteins in formulated feed in farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

Luca Tacchi1, Christopher J Secombes1, Ralph Bickerdike2, Michael A Adler2, Claudia Venegas3, Harald Takle34 and Samuel AM Martin1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ, UK

2 BioMar Ltd, Grangemouth Docks, Grangemouth, FK3 8UL, UK

3 AVS Chile S.A., Casilla 300, Puerto Varas, Chile

4 Nofima, P.O. Box 5010, 1432, Aas, Norway

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:363  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-363

Published: 1 August 2012



Aquaculture of piscivorous fish is in continual expansion resulting in a global requirement to reduce the dependence on wild caught fish for generation of fishmeal and fish oil. Plant proteins represent a suitable protein alternative to fish meal and are increasingly being used in fish feed. In this study, we examined the transcriptional response of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) to a high marine protein (MP) or low fishmeal, higher plant protein replacement diet (PP), formulated to the same nutritional specification within previously determined acceptable maximum levels of individual plant feed materials.


After 77 days of feeding the fish in both groups doubled in weight, however neither growth performance, feed efficiency, condition factor nor organ indices were significantly different. Assessment of histopathological changes in the heart, intestine or liver did not reveal any negative effects of the PP diet. Transcriptomic analysis was performed in mid intestine, liver and skeletal muscle, using an Atlantic salmon oligonucleotide microarray (Salar_2, Agilent 4x44K). The dietary comparison revealed large alteration in gene expression in all the tissues studied between fish on the two diets. Gene ontology analysis showed, in the mid intestine of fish fed PP, higher expression of genes involved in enteritis, protein and energy metabolism, mitochondrial activity/kinases and transport, and a lower expression of genes involved in cell proliferation and apoptosis compared to fish fed MP. The liver of fish fed PP showed a lower expression of immune response genes but a higher expression of cell proliferation and apoptosis processes that may lead to cell reorganization in this tissue. The skeletal muscle of fish fed PP vs MP was characterized by a suppression of processes including immune response, energy and protein metabolism, cell proliferation and apoptosis which may reflect a more energy efficient tissue.


The PP diet resulted in significant effects on transcription in all the 3 tissues studied. Despite of these alterations, we demonstrated that high level of plant derived proteins in a salmon diet allowed fish to grow with equal efficiency as those on a high marine protein diet, and with no difference in biometric quality parameters.