Epigenetic Programming of Heifer Puberty Through Perinatal Nutrition

Nationally and internationally, research on the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) has taken the old saying “you are what you eat” to levels of importance that even its originator, nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, never imagined. The DOHaD hypothesis, set forth originally by epidemiologist David Barker, was the first to suggest a link between prenatal nutrition and late-onset coronary heart disease in humans. We now know that a variety of developmental and health-related outcomes can result from changes in the character of the maternal and postnatal environment, including exposure to either adverse or favorable metabolic, psychological, and chemical conditions, among others. These effects modify the manner in which specific genes are expressed during adulthood, thus representing so-called “epigenetic” rather than genetic effects.

So, how does all this fit into modern animal science research and where are its impacts? The answer is that animal scientists world-wide are busy studying the epigenetic effects of nutrition and other factors on food and companion animal development and performance. Among those are two Department of Animal Science faculty members, Dr. Gary Williams (Texas A&M AgriLife Research-Beeville) and Dr. Rodolfo Cardoso (Texas A&M University-College Station), who along with their graduate students and colleagues have been major players in this research arena for over a decade. Their focus is on the neuroendocrine system and how both pre- and postnatal nutrition can be used in a positive manner to program the timing of puberty in the beef heifer by changing the developmental pattern of key signaling pathways in the brain. The work includes study of the interaction of maternal nutritional status (obese, moderate and low body condition) with early postnatal nutrition (low and high rates of gain) and seeks to understand both the positive and negative impacts of these interactions on lifetime reproductive efficiency. This research has been funded continuously by competitive grants from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture since 2009.


For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Maggie Tucker at maggie.tucker@tamu.edu or (979) 845-1542.

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