Animals differ in the quantitative as well as qualitative expression of their characteristics (biodiversity) such as body size or number of offspring and in their ability to adapt more or less successfully to changing environmental conditions (ambient temperature, food composition, dietary restrictions) (adaptation).
Such differences exist between individuals of the same parentage but also between breeds and species and are the consequence of selection, either natural or through breeding programs. Important variables for biodiversity and adaptability are already present in pre- and early postnatal life; accordingly the processes of ontogenesis and imprinting are considered. In this program area we examine the basic genetic, epigenetic and physiological mechanisms of adaptation at the level of individuals (adaptation) and populations (biodiversity) and explore the functional annotation of farm animal genomes and statistical and bioinformatics models for the estimation of genetic effects in order to ensure a sustainable management of the diversity of our farm animals.
During sensitive phases of prenatal and early postnatal development exogenous and endogenous effectors (as e.g. stress and nutrition) can lead to adaptation processes which have a medium and long-term impact on the phenotype and therefore on health and welfare of the individual. In the cluster „Development and Programming“ we aim at understanding the molecular, epigenetic and physiological principles of this plasticity and at identifying modulating factors as well as time points for intervention in different (farm) animal species.
The cluster projects focus on the identification of physiological and genetical diversity and on the associated adaptive capacity in selected farm animals and in animal models. Main objectives of research are the elucidation of direct effects of selection on a given phenotype, the experimental proof of variation along the correlation between genotype and phenotype, and the functional analysis of interaction between genotype and phenotype. The result of the cluster research will be a comprehensive picture between the correlation of genetic and phenotypic mechanisms of adaptation in farmed animals with stress reactivity, fertility, metabolic load and performance such as growth and milk production. Distinct traits with importance for farm animals will be analyzed on the level of molecular and genome biology in different mouse models, such as high fertility and litter size, benign obesity, interaction of energy metabolism, reproductive development, life- or health-span, and body weight.
A better understanding of the genome, of how breeding influences the genetic make-up of a population and of the relation between genotype and phenotype are all necessary for sustainable development and maintenance of farm animal populations. The cluster brings projects together that involve establishing functional annotations of farm animal genomes, models for estimating genetic variance and interaction effects in animal populations, and the construction of statistical and biophysical models for relating genetic variation to mechanistic consequences for the cell as well as to physiological and behavioral phenotypes. High-quality functional annotations of farm animal genomes will aid estimation of interaction effects and are indispensable for interpreting the results of association studies, as well as for establishing hypotheses for physiological mechanisms underlying the phenotypic variation.