Nutrigenomics Will Improve Supplements

B efore there was written language, humans learned that food can interfere with an individual’s health condition. This gave birth to the use of food and plants as medicines. Then, a great step was taken in the mid-19th century with the findings of Gregor Johann Mendel and the creation of the modern science of genetics. The search for uncovering the secrets locked in each species’ genomes had begun.

However, the real leap forward had to wait until the conclusion of the Human Genome Project (1990–2003) after which scientists started questioning if the interaction between genes and food bioactive compounds could positively or negatively influence an individual’s health. In order to assess this interaction between genes and nutrients, the science of “Nutrigenomics” was created.

Preventing Future Illnesses

Nutrigenomics’ goal is to seek and explain the reciprocal interactions between genes and nutrients at a molecular level and to apply this knowledge to design customized diets in accordance with each individual’s genotype. As a result, with nutrigenomics it will be possible to alleviate the symptoms of existing diseases and to prevent future illnesses.

Mind-boggling as it may seem, nutrigenomics ties together biochemistry, physiology, nutrition, genomics, proteomics (the study of proteins), metabolomics (the study of metabolites), transcriptomics (the study of biomarkers), and epigenomics (the study of the complete set of epigenetic modifications on the genetic material of a cell, known as the epigenome). Whew!

Already, scores of animal, plant and microbe genomes have been sequenced, but only in the last few years have we gained a solid understanding of the genomes of our production animals (cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, etc.). From these concerns, nutrigenomics has arisen—the science that explores how certain nutrients or bioactive dietary compounds can influence gene expression.

Turning Genes On and Off

We now know that food ingredients affect transcription factors, protein expression, and metabolite production. Also, we know that subtle changes in diets can “turn on” or “turn off” specific genes responsible for cellular activities and consequentially health. In other words, gene regulation impacts overall health because each nutrient and nutrient interaction regulates metabolic process in its own unique way.

Gene Chip Horizon

Nutrigenomics enables us to see the basic controlling metabolic switches. By examining specific gene expression patterns with the use of “gene chips,” it is possible to compare how nutrients alter metabolic pathways. Thus we are able to increase resistance to disease, improve immunity, and enhance overall wellbeing. These outcomes may be on the horizon, but the horizon is approached exponentially as gene chips follow the curve of Moore’s Law.

Crucial to the further development of nutrigenomics are certain tools and 
techniques. We have known what a great many genes do for quite some time. However, with the constantly decreasing costs of the tools, scientists are increasingly empowered to enhance their study of the effects of metabolites on genes. Essential for these studies are the discoveries of transcriptional factors and ligand-dependent nuclear receptors. These are able to bind and activate or repress transcription of genes under stimuli of several molecules such as hormones and nutritional molecules.

Thousands of Genes at One Time

Gene expression patterns are typically evaluated using gene chip microarrays. Amazingly, such tools can facilitate the evaluation of the expression of thousands of genes at one time. Many techniques that can be used to look at specific genes and their expression such as real-time PCR assays.

From Cows to Humans

In the dairy industry, the nutritional molecules with the strongest potential for nutrigenomics effect appears to be fatty acids—particularly long-chain fatty acids—for which the nutrigenomics effect is quite strong, however complex. Some dairy scientists are attempting to dissect out the main targets of those fatty acids, the nuclear receptors.

Then there is research done with amino acids. A recent published paper indicated a strong nutrigenomics effect of methionine and lysine in controlling expression of genes coding for proteins involved in milk protein synthesis. Also, an animal health and nutrition company, Alltech, is focusing its research on the key regulatory roles of minerals on gene expression.

Revolutionizing Our Views of Nutrition

Experts agree that nutrigenomics research will continue to benefit the animal nutrition industries. What about humans? Without doubt, nutrigenomics will help redefine nutritional concepts. Moreover, it will provide information that will revolutionize our views of nutrition.

The design of nutritional supplements will become more refined, able to venture yet further, and where none have gone before. All in all, ahead of us is a new era, what will be called “The Golden Age of Nutrition.” Stay tuned.

For a brighter future,

Will Block

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