Theme 5:

Applications to agriculture and human health



The research in Theme 4 is largely based on model systems, but it must ultimately be applied in an integrated manner to both agriculture and human health. Furthermore, the work in Themes 1–4 also requires access to well developed and defined cohorts of animals and clinical subjects. One key issue identified through our work is how to identify the infant who has been “programmed”. Indeed, until we have a way to do so we cannot answer the key question of how important programming is in current populations. This underscores the importance of investigating growth, metabolic and epigenetic profiles of human cohorts of at-risk populations. Very similar approaches are possible in the agricultural sector.


Underlying this work is the fundamental issue of the extent to which early life events affect the partitioning of energy, with consequences for human health and for efficiency and productivity in the farming environment. Already we have generated a number of sheep cohorts that address specific questions, including how birth size is affected by mid-pregnancy stressors, or by changes in nutrition either around the time of conception or in late pregnancy. Little is understood of the biology of animal runting, which costs the farmer immensely; we seek to identify underlying epigenetic and expression differences that will suggest approaches to prevention of runting.


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Current projects


1. The effect of maternal age and IVF procedures on offspring characteristics


This is an experimental project examining whether children born to older first-time mothers, or born as a result of infertility treatments, show differences in growth and metabolism. The theme of the project focuses on the long term consequences and mechanisms of assisted and delayed reproduction, events that are becoming more prevalent in developed populations.


Wayne Cutfield

Project leader: Prof Wayne Cutfield (w.cutfield <at>

Project team: Assoc Prof Paul Hofman, Dr Allan Sheppard




2. Long-term consequences of a stressed uterine environment


This is an experimental project investigating key concepts underpinning agricultural farming practice that will produce new knowledge of benefit both to the scientific community and to the agricultural sector. The project is based upon the now well-accepted concept that early life events significantly impact on how an organism grows and develops. There remains however a lack of understanding of what types of events can modify growth and development, and at what points during development the fetus is most responsive to these influences. This project aims to examine the mechanisms underlying growth and development of offspring in sheep and cattle. The development of a mathematical model relating postnatal growth to events during pregnancy will allow computer-based evaluations of different strategies designed to manipulate birth weight and increase quality of life in pastoral animals.


Hugh Blair

Project leader: Prof Hugh Blair (h.blair <at>

Project team: Assoc Prof Paul Kenyon, Dr Catriona Jenkinson, Brielle Rosa (PhD student), Maria Fernanda (PhD student), Prof Graeme Wake




3. Long-term metabolic consequences of a stressed uterine environment


This is an experimental project that aims to investigate how maternal constraint (in the form of maternal age) subsequently affects sugar metabolism in the offspring. This project also investigates how the daughters of either young or old mothers respond to pregnancy, and how the next generation copes with nutritional challenges.


Mark Oliver     Frank Bloomfield

Project co-leaders:

Dr Mark Oliver (left; m.oliver <at> and

Assoc Prof Frank Bloomfield (right; f.bloomfield <at>

Project team: Dr Anne Jaquiery, Eric Thorstensen



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