Pop quiz: What happens when a group of scientists in gastrointestinal physiology, metabolomics, microbiomics, functional genomics, and animal nutrition get together? The answer: You find real-world solutions to complex animal production challenges.
At the heart of these discoveries is the Integrated Animal Systems Biology (IASB) team at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS). With state-of-the art analytical methods in systems biology, IASB uses molecular biology, bioinformatics, and data mining to uncover new information that can improve the ability to more efficiently use calories and nutrients to sustainably feed more people on the planet.
Why is this important? When it comes to figuring out ways to increase animal productivity, we need to first understand the complex dynamics of nutrients, metabolites, microbes, pathways, gene expression, and physiological functions in animals.
IASB partners with leaders in the animal and feed industries to bring these new approaches and perspectives to the forefront to be a part of creating solutions for producing more abundant, wholesome, and environmentally-friendly protein food products for consumers.
Traditional approaches involving single scientific disciplines are woefully inadequate to solve the complex problems of sustainable food production for a growing population of people. What the IASB team is doing is a novel approach for conducting research in animal science, says Gerald Shurson, professor of swine nutrition in the CFANS Department of Animal Science and IASB team member.
“We’re using different scientific disciplines and platforms to break apart the different biological responses that occur in the whole animal,” says Shurson. “... This goes far beyond the traditional study of nutrition.”
“When we make a nutritional change in one area, we can see a multitude of different responses happening within the animal’s system and note how they are changing in a positive or negative way,” says Shurson. “By doing that, we’re discovering why things are happening the way they are, and that’s really what our industry partners are looking for—to be able to strategically use dietary changes to achieve predictable animal growth and health responses.”
Shurson notes that the IASB team is only scratching the surface of all there is to be discovered. “We look forward to continuing our collaboration with industry leaders and producers,” he says. “As we integrate knowledge to understand the complex mechanisms underlying animal growth and health responses, we will continue to improve overall animal productivity, efficiency, and health—and that’s a sustainable solution for everyone.”