Based on the future requirements for sustainable production to cover the demand for animal-based foodstuffs, the research mandate of the FBN and its strategic research approach, the following three topics/program areas were identified as future research fields (program areas):
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.
Today, the sustainable safeguarding of animal health and welfare of animals under human care is a main task coherently recognized and demanded by science, society, policy and economy. Compared to wild-living animals, the processes of domestication and breeding, limitations of housing environments in anthropogenic ecosystems, economization of performance-associated traits, and altered social and living conditions of farm animal populations have resulted in major changes of physiology and behaviour of such animals. This may have negative consequences for the animals if the husbandry challenges exceed their evolved adaptive repertoire. Therefore, our research on farm animals is focused on the clarification of the functions and the processes of biological systems that play an essential role in physiological and psychological coping with challenges livestock farming in the context of health and welfare. This includes various key players of the immune, the reproductive, the metabolic and the neuroendocrine system as well as the behavior and the complex interaction between these systems. The interdisciplinary approaches of this systemic research comprise all biological levels from molecular biology to behaviour, from the cell and its compartments to the organism, and finally the herd. Our research goals are the identification of innovative bioindicators for animal health and well-being, as well as the development of strategies for prevention of diseases and for the improvement of animal welfare in terms of housing, nutrition, and management.
Careful treatment of the environment is a key requirement for future livestock farming, with the anticipated climate change posing a particular challenge. This calls for the efficient use of natural resources such as land and water and the least possible impact on the environment. Both require a comprehensive understanding of the regulation of metabolic processes in farm animals under different housing conditions. Accordingly, different control levels of the metabolism and behaviour are in the focus of this program area. On the one hand, differences in the phenotypic plasticity of farm animals will be elucidated and on the other hand, strategies will be developed to match husbandry systems with specific needs of the animals. Therefore molecular mechanisms of nutrient intake, transformation and partitioning, including intra- and extracellular signaling pathways as well as microbiome-host interactions are analyzed in order to improved energy, nitrogen and phosphate efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions and to develop biomarkers. Furthermore feeding and animal husbandry strategies facilitating adaptation to heat stress will be developed. Investigations on animal-environmental interactions finally aim at improving health, welfare and performance while reducing the environmental footprint of farm animals.