Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Emøke Bendixen


Systems Biology for Farm Animal Health

Our research focus on combining genetics and biochemistry to study molecular events that explains health, growth, and disease traits in farm animal production.

We use mass spectrometry to describe quantitative changes in farm animal proteins, to study how genetic variation affects specific proteins and entire biochemical pathways, and ultimately how these changes affects the animals biological traits.

Ongoing Projects include:

  • Characterizing bioactive protein components in milk and colostrum.
  • Host-Pathogen interactions in porcine gut
  • Host-Pathogen interactions in porcine lung tissues
  • Molecular markers for metabolic efficiency.
  • Mapping how specific glycan structures on pig gut cells can manipulate  the pig gut microbiome.
  • Buidling PeptideAtlas repositories for farm animal species (Cow, Pig, Horse)

Methods include: 

  • Quantitative protein mass spectrometry (SRM, iTRAQ and SWATH technologies).
  • Large scale validation of protein markers (SRM technology).
  • Bioinformatics

How genetics can control the gut microbiome

Figure 1: Glycan anchors specifically select which bacteria that may colonize the mammalian gut.

Figure 2: The chain of events that links a known genetic variation in the FUT1 gene to changes in intestinal sugar molecules, to result in altered gut microbiomes and to pathogen susceptibility.

In animals and plants a large battery of enzyme are responsible for building specific glycan molecules that attach to cell surfaces, where they perform specific recognition roles. On mammalian gut cells, such glycans exist in hundreds of unique but yet uncharacterized structures, each acting as a selective anchor for specific bacterial strains that need to adhere in order to colonize the gut, but so far very few of these glycan structures have been characterized, and we lack knowledge about how and when specific bacteria can colonize the mammalian gut. We study pigs with variations in their FUT1 gene. This gene codes for enzymes needed for correct fucose-sugar transfer, and interestingly, certain FUT1 mutant pigs have a remarkably high resistance to E.coli pathogens. Our recent studies revealed that more than 30 different gut-glycans are affected by FUT1 gene variations. This is groundbreaking, because it suggests that knowledge of such specific glycan-bacteria interactions could be used to manipulate the microbiome and fight infections e.g. by trageted drugs, feed supplements or genetic selection. This could provide alternatives to currently used antibiotics in pig production. With more than 50 % of all global antibiotics being used to fight E.coli infections in pigs, this knowledge could hugely reduce the need for antibiotics in farm animal production, and thus, reduce the antimicrobial resistance to commonly used antibiotics. We currently work on characterising the overall microbiome changes in these mutants, to allow link correlating glycan structures to bacterial adhesion.

Read more

Hesselager MO, Everest-Dass AV, Thaysen-Andersen M, Bendixen E, Packer NH (2016). FUT1 genetic variants impact protein glycosylation of porcine intestinal mucosa. Glycobiology 26(6):607-22. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cww009.  

The Farm Animal PeptideAtlas projects

Recognizing that farm animal proteins are widely underrepresented in data repositories worldwide, we have since 2008 collaborated with the PeptideAtlas project (www.peptideatlas.org), led by Eric Deutsch, (ISB, Seattle). This open resource now covers more than 7000 pig proteins, 2000 cow proteins and 3000 horse proteins, and is becoming an important tool for developing MS methods to support farm animal health research, and for delivering better measures for food quality and safety. We currently work on a new release of the bovine PeptideAtlas, (expected release medio 2017). This new release will include information on more than 10 000 bovine proteins. Read more about the farm animal PeptideAtlas here:

Hesselager MO, Codrea MC, Sun Z, Deutsch EW, Bennike TB, Stensballe A, Bundgaard L, Moritz RL, Bendixen E. (2016). The Pig PeptideAtlas: A resource for systems biology in animal production and biomedicine. Proteomics 16(4):634-44. doi: 10.1002/pmic.201500195.

Bundgaard L, Jacobsen S, Sørensen MA, Sun Z, Deutsch EW, Moritz RL, Bendixen (2014). The Equine PeptideAtlas: a resource for developing proteomics-based veterinary research. Proteomics 14(6):763-73. doi: 10.1002/pmic.201300398.

Bislev SL, Deutsch EW, Sun Z, Farrah T, Aebersold R, Moritz RL, Bendixen E. (2012). A Bovine PeptideAtlas of milk and mammary gland proteomes. Proteomics 12(18):2895-9. doi: 10.1002/pmic.201200057.