Nutrigenomics: Fine-tuning gene’s motor

By Ron Goble

LEXINGTON, KY – Dr. Ronan Power was recipient of the 2008 Scientific Medal of Excellence presented at Alltech’s 24th International Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium. Power was recognized for his work in advancing the use of nutrigenomics and gene expression profiling, as tools for improving nutritional strategies, animal health and production.
During his presentation, Power made it clear that nutrigenomics is not defined as genetics.
“We’re not altering the genetics of an animal. Nor are we genetically engineering the animal. What we are doing with carefully selected nutrients is fine-tuning the motor that is already there,” he explained. “Genes and DNA represent the motor that is present in every cell and every tissue of an animal. We are finding ways to tweak the activity of genes that are already present, and switch on good genes and keep bad ones switched down. For example, keeping stress response genes switched down with proper nutrition is a win-win situation. The animal is healthier, more productive and has a lot more possibility of improving efficiencies.
“We’ve also made significant strides in improving activity of genes that are involved in energy production pathways. So in that way the animal can produce more energy from a given diet. That means it is more effectively using its diet and less wasteful and more productive as a result,” the researcher said.
According to Power, there exists a fantastic range of opportunity out there for using this type of research for new product development and new nutritional strategies.

Turn gene switch on/off
“It has been discovered that genes can be switched on or off and affect performance significantly as a result. A strip – looking a lot like a supermarket bar code – represents the activity of a single gene involved in metabolism. Switching a gene on or off can impact the metabolism activity,” Power said.
After 2 1/2 hours of fasting, researchers begin to see differences emerge in the gene activity profile. In 5 1/2 hours, the differences are even more pronounced. After 24 hours they observed a totally different pattern than what they started with, indicating total metabolic reprogramming that has controlled the level of the gene, which occurs during the withdrawal of nutrients from an animal.
“Why is it important to understand this interaction between diet and genes?” he asks. “If you can alter gene expression by adding nutrients to the diet, then by extension, you can alter biological function. And in the relatively new science of genomics we seek to alter both gene expression and biological function in a positive manner.”
Using nutrigenomics allows researchers to move ahead faster. Because gene expression changes in a matter of hours or days, you can run these trials for a much shorter duration. Yet once you are finished, instead of having perhaps 40 or 50 data parameters, you can have literally thousands upon thousands of data points from one single experiment. That’s the great attraction of nutrigenomics.
“In fact, if there is one challenge with this approach, it actually can make managing and absorbing the absolute glut of data you get from every experiment that you run. At that point, it must be married with very powerful computational techniques and tools to process and analyze that huge volume of information,” Power says.
The bottom line is to use nutrigenomics to determine the real inside story on how a nutrient is working exactly in the cells and tissues of the animal species you are studying.
Practical applications of nutrigenomics are: The ability to replicate rapidly nutrients in the diet for their potential to improve or enhance animal health and production efficiency.
You can use nutrigenomics as an important tool to rapidly assess the potential impact of nutrition and diet on important quality parameters.
Power is currently the director of research and serves as director of the Nutrigenomics Center at Alltech’s North American Biosciences Center in Nicholasville, Ky. He also oversees work in Alltech’s European Biosciences Centre in Dunboyne, Ireland, and provides basic leadership for external molecular research programs around the world.
In recent years, Power has been the key architect of Alltech’s nutrigenomic research program, examining the effect of nutrition on gene expression. Through his work with collaborators, he has demonstrated the value of using Alltech’s Sel-Plex® as a source of selenium and differentiated it from supplemental sources in the form of selenomethionine and inorganic selenium salts.
He has also used a functional genomic approach to demonstrate the effects of organic forms of selenium on basic physiological processes associated with fertility in livestock and poultry, neurological degeneration, oxidative stress and energy metabolism. His work has provided clues into nutritional mechanisms that can be used to alter the aging process and has resulted in four provisional patents on applications of selenium yeast in altering key metabolic processes

■ For information on Dr. Ronan Power’s work on nutrigenomics, e-mail