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3D’omics: A three-dimensional understanding for improved animal health

01.07.2021: In the recently approved European research project 3D’omics, scientists from the University Clinic for Poultry and Fish Medicine at Vetmeduni, together with a number of other leading European universities, institutions and industry research partners, are exploring the possibilities of so-called 3D’omics technology to analyse specific interactions in the intestines of poultry and swine. The goal is to generate a three-dimensional representation of the interactions between intestinal tissue, feed ingredients and microorganisms in order to improve animal feeding and animal husbandry practices with a special focus on optimization of  animal health and animal welfare.

Understanding the interactions between animals and the microorganisms associated with them is increasingly seen as essential for improving animal health, welfare and production. To better understand these biomolecular interactions, however, researchers must adopt novel analytical strategies. One of the most significant one is applying omics-technologies.

Note: The term omics covers several disciplines in the life sciences that end in the suffix -omics, such as genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, metagenomics and transcriptomics.

The 3D’omics project is part of the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme with partners from 11 European countries. The research project is coordinated by the University of Copenhagen (UCPH). The consortium members include experts from European universities and research institutions as well as partners from the private sector. The EU funding volume amounts to € 10 million over the next four years. The University Clinic for Poultry and Fish Medicine at Vetmeduni is the lead institution for the field of poultry.

Note: An overview of the universities, institutions and partners involved in the project can be found in the info box.

3D’omics: A research approach with great potential

“Omics involves information derived from conventional DNA/RNA sequencing and mass spectrometry. However, these data do not provide any information about how the different biological elements are spatially distributed in the intestine. Many interactions between microorganisms, feed and the animals therefore remain hidden,” explains Michael Hess, Head of the University Clinic for Poultry and Fish Medicine and Head of the Department for Farm Animals and Veterinary Public Health at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, who is responsible for researching the interaction of poultry with viruses, bacteria and parasites who infect the animal via the gut. The new research project is designed to utilise the potential of omics-technologies onto another level  – by turning omics into 3D’omics, representing an integrated approach to intestinal health.

3D representation to reveal hidden interactions

The researchers involved in the project see the three-dimensional (3D) representation of biomolecules, cells and tissues as key to a better understanding of biomolecular interactions. In the 3D’omics project, the researchers will develop, optimise and, for the first time, implement this technology for poultry and swine under experimental conditions. Specifically, this involves the generation of 3D’omics landscapes to reconstruct the ecosystems in the intestines of poultry and swine with unprecedented accuracy.

Extensive benefits expected for animal welfare, animal husbandry and the environment

On this basis, the international research team will analyse the effect of a variety of factors, including diet, exposure to pathogens and animal management practices. “We believe that our approach will open new avenues of research to improve animal husbandry, optimise microbiota- and host-tailored feeds and animal health treatments, and design new management practices aimed at improving animal welfare together with increasing production efficiency while decreasing environmental impact,” says Hess, emphasising the goals of the research project.

About the project 3D´omics

The aim of the EU-funded Horizon 2020 project 3D’omics is to generate 3D representations of the interactions between microorganisms and poultry or swine in order to improve animal husbandry practices and animal welfare and reduce environmental impact.

The following European universities, institutions and partners are involved in the 3D’omics project:

  • University of Copenhagen (Denmark)/project coordination  
  • University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Austria)  
  • KU Leuven (Belgium)        
  • ETH Zürich (Switzerland)                               
  • Ben-Gurion University (Israel)       
  • Norwegian University of Life Sciences (Norway)       
  • Centre for Genomic Regulation (Spain)                                     
  • Max Delbrück Center (Germany)   
  • Aviagen (UK) / Norsvin (Norway) / Biomin (Austria) / Novogene (Netherlands) / Afekta (Finland

„European project to improve animal production: Unraveling the animal-microbe interplay at the microscale”, Press release UCPH