The emergence of mammal genomes provides fundamental gene-placement information, but now researchers are able to pursue functional genomics to unlock the mysteries of RNA and protein expression. Such research, Schook and colleagues write, will enhance our knowledge of metabolism and improve companion animal nutrition and health.
The dog, they say, "may be a very useful model, as many of the most common diseases of purebred dogs are also major health concerns in humans." They cite arthritis, cancer, deafness, heart disease, blindness, epilepsy and chronic metabolic diseases.
In the Illinois study, a diet of mostly high-quality animal-based ingredients is being compared with a mainly plant-based diet. Researchers are analyzing ribonucleic acid (RNA) samples to generate gene expression profiles of some 384 genes associated with metabolism and immune function. They also are monitoring digestion, fetal microbes and concentrations of fermented end products to measure the effects of dietary changes.
Illinois scientists hope the project will identify biomarkers that can predict diabetes, a disease that is appearing among the 40 percent of aging overweight dogs and cats in the United States, and other medical issues.
The general study of metabolic profiles of cells, tissues and organisms is designed to identify molecular markers that reflect nutritional and/or health status. Eventually, Schook said, such studies could result in animal feed that includes functional ingredients to help prevent and treat diseases in general or to target breed-specific genetic problems.
Schook's collaborators are George Fahey, professor of animal sciences, and Kelly Swanson, a postdoctoral fellow in animal sciences. Pyxis Genomics of Chicago supports their research. Schook is a member of the board of directors of the privately held company that focuses on genetic research o
Contact: Jim Barlow
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign