Symposium highlights epigenetic effects of milk

Apr 05, 2013

It seems the ads were right. A milk mustache is a good thing to have. Animal and dairy scientists have discovered that drinking milk at an early age can help mammals throughout their lives.

But understanding exactly how affects the body is a complicated story of hormones, antibodies and proteins, as well as other cells and compounds researchers have not yet identified.

Learning how milk affects offspring was the subject of the Lactation Biology Symposium, held as part of the 2012 Joint Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ. The presentations were summarized in a recent paper in the Journal of Animal Science.

The presentations focused on epigenetics, or how based on factors like environment or diet. modify when or how certain traits are expressed.

The first presenter, Dr. Frank Bartol from Auburn University, explained how certain hormones, called lactocrines, in pig's milk affect gene expression in . Bartol said lactrocrines could modify gene expression in the reproductive systems; however, Bartol said the specific effects of lactocrines are still being studied.

In the next presentation, Dr. Harald Hammon, from the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology, explained how drinking milk affects future nutrition. According to Hammon, the milk produced in the first few days after birth, called colostrum, contains that help young calves better digest and absorb lactose and glucose. Hammon called for more research into identifying these factors and better describing their effects.

Studying milk is important not just for studying future fertility and nutrition, but future milk production as well. Dr. Paul Kenyon, from Massey University in New Zealand, suggested that either underfeeding or overfeeding milk could reduce milk production in the offspring. Though the differences in milk yield were small, there could still be an economic difference for .

The research presented at the Lactation Biology Symposium could have implications for human health as well. Dr. Katie Hinde, from Harvard University, revealed how the components of mother's milk could alter infant behavior and cell development through epigenetic mechanisms. In Hinde's studies of rhesus monkeys, infants who had mothers producing milk higher in milk energy and cortisol were more active, playful, exploratory and bold.

"Milk is, therefore, not merely food that allows the body to grow but it contains constituents that help build the brain and provide the energy that allows infants to be behaviorally active," wrote K. M. Daniels et. al. in a review of the Lactation Biology Symposium.

Research into milk could help researchers better understand farm animals, the dairy industry and human health. Figuring out which compounds are found in milk and how they affect gene expression in offspring could advance knowledge in body development at all stages of life.

"At present there are far more questions than answers," Bartol said in an interview. "However, we are making progress."

Explore further: High-quality drug testing helps protect the integrity of California horse racing

More information: The full symposium summary is titled, "Lactation Biology Symposium: The long-term impact of epigenetics and maternal influence on the neonate through milk-borne factors and nutrient status." It can be read in full at www.journalofanimalscience.org

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Supplement aids milk production

Sep 12, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Massey University research has led to the development of a calf supplement that can increase milk yield in dairy cows by up to 12 per cent.

Milking the pigeon: extracting the mechanisms involved

Sep 18, 2011

Pigeons, flamingos and male emperor penguins are all able to produce "milk" in their crop to feed their chicks. Research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Genomics uses new technology to stu ...

Unpasteurized milk poses health risks without benefits

Dec 16, 2008

With disease outbreaks linked to unpasteurized milk rising in the United States, a review published in the January 1, 2009 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases examines the dangers of drinking raw milk.

Recommended for you

Himalayan Viagra fuels caterpillar fungus gold rush

11 hours ago

Overwhelmed by speculators trying to cash-in on a prized medicinal fungus known as Himalayan Viagra, two isolated Tibetan communities have managed to do at the local level what world leaders often fail to ...

Science casts light on sex in the orchard

14 hours ago

Persimmons are among the small club of plants with separate sexes—individual trees are either male or female. Now scientists at the University of California, Davis, and Kyoto University in Japan have discovered ...

Researchers capture picture of microRNA in action

14 hours ago

Biologists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have described the atomic-level workings of "microRNA" molecules, which control the expression of genes in all animals and plants.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.