Using neuropeptides to feed the world

In November of this year, the world population reached an astounding 8 billion people. To support the accompanying increase in food demand, beef and sheep farmers are using scientific interventions for assistance. These modern farming practices can enhance nutrient absorption, called feed efficiency to increase the weight of farm animals, but can sometimes cause inflammation. Applying further scientific interventions can treat this inflammation while maximizing meat production from these animals in a healthier manner. Moreover, similar scientific strategies can be harnessed to fight against obesity, a 21st-century human epidemic, crippling our healthcare systems and causing premature death. Finding solutions to these global problems is what Professor Glenn Dorsam and his colleagues have been working on at North Dakota State University (NDSU) located in Fargo.

First author and graduate student, Emma Hawley,
seen here working with a sheep on the campus of
NDSU. Emma Hawley recently graduated from the
Dorsam Lab with her master’s degree and is currently
employed in Rochester, MN.

Inspired by his postdoctoral fellowship research experience at the University of California San Francisco, Dr. Glenn Dorsam started his own lab at NDSU in 2004 to continue studying the neuropeptide, called vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) that is known to regulate circadian rhythm, thermogenesis, immunity, and metabolism. In the lab, he and his colleagues progressed from cancer and immunology research that eventually evolved to focus on the gastrointestinal tract. The Dorsam research group has recently published observations regarding how VIP, delivered to the gut by nerves, plays an important role in the stabilization of the gut microbiota – trillions of microorganisms that provide energy, vitamins, and beneficial metabolites to the human and livestock host. While this is an important observation, the exact mechanism of how VIP accomplishes this effect on the microbiota remains to be discovered. Nonetheless, the Dorsam lab hypothesizes that manipulating the natural actions of the VIP neuropeptide can simultaneously enhance animal meat production and mitigate human obesity in a safe and healthy manner while helping to feed humans.

The lab’s most current research publication was a collaborative effort with Animal Science Professor Kendall Swanson’s laboratory at NDSU. This research was spearheaded by a graduate student and first author, Emma Hawley (Dorsam’s Lab), and Kafi Mia (Swanson’s Lab). In addition, this research also benefited from co-authors, Dr. Mustapha Yusuf, and Curt Doetkott. The goal of the project was to find a way to improve gut and immune function in ruminants during high carbohydrate finishing diets, which resemble the typical Western diet. The focus of this current paper was to better understand the function of VIP, and its sister neuropeptide, called pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP), which plays an important role in gut microbiota homeostasis and host immunity.
In this study, VIP, PACAP, and their receptors VPAC1, VPAC2, and PAC1 were measured in 15 different tissues of ruminants (e.g., cows and sheep) using reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction or RT-qPCR; the same technique used to detect the presence of COVID-19.
“It was interesting to me to find out that there was a similar expression profile for the VIP and PACAP ligands in the brain and gastrointestinal tract in cows and sheep, which we have known for years also occurs in humans and rodents. This “gut-brain axis” of VIP and PACAP as scientists describe this expression profile, seems to be consistent in ruminants,” says Professor Glenn Dorsam. “So, it appears that VIP and PACAP are probably doing similar biological actions in ruminants as they are in humans and mice. Interestingly, we also measured the expression of PACAP in organs that are unique to ruminants, like the rumen. So, not only might there be a hardwiring in all mammals with respect to the gut-brain axis, but there also may be ruminant-specific roles for these neuropeptides.”

In the future, the group plans to test whether administering VIP to ruminants can improve their health, while maximizing meat production, when on high carbohydrate finishing diets. This research has already commenced, and we hope to read about these new agricultural advances in future research papers from the Dorsam and Swanson laboratories.

Products used: FIREScript RT cDNA synthesis kit and HOT FIREPol Evagreen qPCR supermix.
“The products were awesome, always worked well and the price was reasonable. Customer service was important for us. My students received terrific suggestions from Solis BioDyne on how to improve the workflow,” commented Professor Glenn Dorsam.

Hawley, E., Mia, K., Yusuf, M., Swanson, K.C., Doetkott, C., Dorsam, G.P. Messenger RNA Gene Expression Screening of VIP and PACAP Neuropeptides and Their Endogenous Receptors in Ruminants. Biology. 2022; 11(10):1512.