Background last update:27 Mar 2014

An extra pig per litter with nutrigenomics

I have recently moved from the second floor up to the fourth floor in our office building. Besides gaining a better view, the move also offered an opportunity to tidy up and throw away any unnecessary papers and unwanted materials lying around.

While tiding up one of the cupboards my colleague Vincent ter Beek (editor of  AllAboutFeed's sister publication Pig Progress) found a GeneChip of the mouse genome. It was hidden away in the archives so to speak. A GeneChip (also called gene chip microarray) is used for the evaluation of the expression of thousands of genes at one time. Scanning of the genes and their expression is used in nutrigenomics research in which the effect of feed ingredients on gene expression is studied.

This is the future!
This emerging science has fascinated me for many years and I remember a series of presentations from Alltech where the GeneChip was shown by the speaker addressing that these kind of chips are part of the future of animal nutrition! I think the mouse genome chip was once handed to one of us editors at a show or something, I can't remember to be honest. Coincidence or not, this week I was working on an article on nutrigenomics for the upcoming issue of AllAboutFeed. I have interviewed a few experts on this topic and learnt that this science has evolved in the last few years and it not at all 'hidden in the archives'.

Current research
Massimo Bionaz from Oregon State University for example explained to me that  nutrigenomics can benefit the dairy industry to a great extent. "Recent research indicated a strong nutrigenomics effect of methionine and lysine in controlling expression of genes coding for proteins involved in milk protein synthesis", he said. Also for formulating novel pet foods, nutrigenomics seems to be used more often as a tool in making pet foods even more specialized for certain animal groups, as explained by Kelly Swanson, professor at the University of Illinois. He and his team are working on current novel protein, novel carbohydrate, and functional ingredient evaluation, obesity, and gastrointestinal health for pets, using nutrigenomic tools.

Extra pig per litter
Genes are fascinating and the theory that we are moving towards 'a la carte' feeding of production animals sounds wonderful. And now that we've crossed the bridge of mapping most of the genomes of our production animals, there's no turning back. But it still remains an enormously complex field and expense or lack of trained (animals) scientists are often an issue. However, it is great to see that some pioneering animal nutrition companies and universities are taking the first steps in developing tools for the future. In the upcoming Annual Alltech International Symposium (to be held in May 2014) one of the presentations is called: "What if nutrigenomics provided one extra pig per litter or 5,000 litres more milk per cow?". I will be there sitting avidly in the front row!

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