Reproduction, Fertility and Development Reproduction, Fertility and Development Society
Vertebrate reproductive science and technology
REVIEW (Open Access)

Epigenetics and developmental programming of welfare and production traits in farm animals

K. D. Sinclair A F , K. M. D. Rutherford B , J. M. Wallace C , J. M. Brameld A , R. Stöger A , R. Alberio A , D. Sweetman A , D. S. Gardner A , V. E. A. Perry A , C. L. Adam C , C. J. Ashworth D , J. E. Robinson E and C. M. Dwyer B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Schools of Biosciences and Veterinary Medicine and Sciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington, Leicestershire, LE12 5RD, UK.

B Animal Behaviour and Welfare team, SRUC, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JG, UK.

C Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill, Aberdeen, AB25 2ZD, UK.

D The Roslin Institute and R(D)SVS, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush, Midlothian, EH25 9RG, UK.

E College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK.

F Corresponding author. Email: kevin.sinclair@nottingham.ac.uk

Reproduction, Fertility and Development 28(10) 1443-1478 https://doi.org/10.1071/RD16102
Submitted: 2 March 2016  Accepted: 6 June 2016   Published: 21 July 2016

Abstract

The concept that postnatal health and development can be influenced by events that occur in utero originated from epidemiological studies in humans supported by numerous mechanistic (including epigenetic) studies in a variety of model species. Referred to as the ‘developmental origins of health and disease’ or ‘DOHaD’ hypothesis, the primary focus of large-animal studies until quite recently had been biomedical. Attention has since turned towards traits of commercial importance in farm animals. Herein we review the evidence that prenatal risk factors, including suboptimal parental nutrition, gestational stress, exposure to environmental chemicals and advanced breeding technologies, can determine traits such as postnatal growth, feed efficiency, milk yield, carcass composition, animal welfare and reproductive potential. We consider the role of epigenetic and cytoplasmic mechanisms of inheritance, and discuss implications for livestock production and future research endeavours. We conclude that although the concept is proven for several traits, issues relating to effect size, and hence commercial importance, remain. Studies have also invariably been conducted under controlled experimental conditions, frequently assessing single risk factors, thereby limiting their translational value for livestock production. We propose concerted international research efforts that consider multiple, concurrent stressors to better represent effects of contemporary animal production systems.

Additional keywords: behaviour, fertility, fetal programming, lactation, livestock, nutrition, stress.


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