From genetics to epigenetics

Lifestart themes
Metabolic programming

Key takeaways from the article:

  • Changes in gene activity as a result of environmental factors but not involving alterations in the genetic code can change the future productivity of animals
  • Some of these changes can be passed on to offspring for at least one generation

How environmental factors can change the genome of young individuals

The last fifty years have been dominated by the discovery of the double helix DNA model and subsequent study of the genome and how genetics can change animal productivity. The next decades will see the rise of the science of epigenetics.

Programming performance from the outset

Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve alterations to the genetic code but still get passed down to at least one successive generation. These patterns of gene expression are governed by the cellular material—the epigenome—that sits on top of the genome, hence the prefix “epi”. These epigenetic “marks” tell the gene to switch on or off, or to speak loudly or to whisper. Diet, stress and pre-and post-natal nutrition are all factors that, through epigenetic marks, can make an imprint on genes that are passed from one generation to the next.


Consequences for dairy calf rearing programmes

Calf-rearing is affected by epigenetic marks linked to nutrition. In this way, early-life nutrition is able to program the metabolism for later life. Metabolic programming, the natural phenomenon on which LifeStart is based, has been described as follows: “Early adaptations to a short nutritional perinatal stimulus permanently change the physiology and metabolism of the organism and continue to be expressed even in the absence of the stimulus that initiated them".

More about Metabolic programming

A LifeStart feeding schedule alters serum metabolomic profiles and hepatic function in calves

Elevated levels of pre-weaning nutrition increase growth and change protein and energy metabolism and hepatic function of calves.
Read more

To understand calf performance, study bees!

Epigenetics describes the mechanisms that change genes in bees but also in dairy calves.
Read more

Pre-weaning nutrition has a big impact on metabolism later in life

In the Kempenshof trial, effects of metabolic programming on life-time performance of dairy calves will be studied for the entire life of the animals.
Read more

LifeStart Pillars

Colostrum Management
Weaning Strategies
Calf to heifer

LifeStart Themes

Metabolic Programming
Glucose metabolism
Role of fat in calf nutrition
Lactobalance, hydration, and osmoregulation
Most LifeStart science articles on this site relate to a particular stage of the life of a calf or dairy cow. However, some general themes are not related to a particular stage of life. For a full understanding of LifeStart science, please review the information related to the 4 themes above: