Research Topic

The Influences of Early Life Experiences on Future Health and Productivity

About this Research Topic

The conditions experienced during early life (prenatal and neonatal periods) can influence the offspring long-term phenotype by modulating their development, physiology, behavior, resilience, and vulnerability to disease, ultimately impacting health productivity. 

The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, or developmental programming, refers to maternal/paternal influences at critical periods in pre and peri-conceptional, fetal or neonatal development with resulting persistent postnatal effects on the offspring. Considerable efforts have been made to understand how these influences during specific stages of gestation impact the developmental trajectory of the offspring differently. The fetus responds to stimuli or challenges causing changes in gene expression due to epigenetic modifications (including DNA methylation, histone modifications and non-coding RNAs) that can influence organ structure and/or function and ultimately exert long-term effects on the postnatal offspring. Numerous examples of influences (i.e., nutrition, drugs, or stress) with the potential to program the fetus exist in livestock species. In beef cows, nutrient fluctuations during pregnancy (i.e., over or undernutrition) affects fetal development, with long-term impacts on muscle development hindering the quality of meat and production efficiency. In dairy cattle, exposure to elevated environmental temperature and humidity during pregnancy affects fetal development with long-term implications in health, survivability, and productivity. Rabbit and sheep models of maternal inflammation during gestation can alter placental and fetal development leaving offspring at an increased risk of metabolic and even neurological disorders. In horses, the use of cereal pellets to supplement forage in pregnant mares has been associated with altered metabolism and increased incidence of juvenile osteoarticular lesions in their foals. Due to fetal nutrient partitioning skeletal muscle can be disproportionately affected by fetal growth restriction leading to slowed postnatal growth in ruminants and pigs. Furthermore, maternal insults can influence long-term changes to offspring productivity such as wool production in sheep. Food preference has been shown be influenced by maternal nutrition in several species and this may affect food intake and subsequent production. These observations extend to non-mammalian species such as poultry, where, for example, in ovo supplementation with nutriments affects the capacity of eggs to hatch, chick growth and health as well as meat quality. 

In recent years, it has become more apparent that postnatal early life experiences, particularly the first weeks or months of life outside the womb, can influence the offspring developmental trajectory and productive outcomes later in life. Early life nutrition management (i.e., plane, frequency, quantity, and quality) has been shown to influence gut and rumen development, as well as the establishment of gut microbiota in diary calves with long-lasting implications on production. Postnatal exposure to elevated temperature and humidity significantly reduces dry matter intake with negative consequences on health and growth performance in dairy calves. Moreover, in pigs maternal programming via milk derived factors in early postnatal life have been implicated in reduced fecundity and litter size over multiple parities. In this area of research, it is important to note that maternal insults during late pregnancy, such as undernutrition or heat stress will undoubtedly have carryover effects into early lactation thereby further influencing postnatal development. Other neonatal factors with the potential to influence the offspring long-term include social and housing conditions, husbandry practices, level of exposure to pathogens or infectious environments, among many others. 

Livestock industries are increasingly focusing on improving lifetime performance. Given that the perinatal period is a unique opportunity to shape the animal phenotypes throughout life, identifying challenges and opportunities for manipulating early life conditions to develop more resilient and less vulnerable animals is a growing area of interest. This Research Topic intends to provide a comprehensive overview of the current knowledge about the influence that early life experiences have on the offspring subsequent health and performance in farm animals, and the potential underlying mechanisms leading to phenotypic outcomes later in life. We welcome the submission of Original Research, Review, Mini-Review, Methods and Perspective articles on how early life experiences might impact future health and productivity in livestock species (cattle, sheep, goat, swine, horse, others) that cover, but are not limited to, the following sub-topics:

1. Prenatal (in-utero) and postnatal influences (i.e., nutrition, environment, housing conditions, etc.) programming fetal and neonatal offspring development and its long-term effect on health and performance.

2. Molecular mechanisms by which early-life experiences program health and production.

3. Challenges and opportunities for the manipulation of perinatal development (i.e., what can be avoided or improved to produce beneficial effects in the offspring, or aspects that can be avoided to reduce negative outcomes).


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The conditions experienced during early life (prenatal and neonatal periods) can influence the offspring long-term phenotype by modulating their development, physiology, behavior, resilience, and vulnerability to disease, ultimately impacting health productivity. 

The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, or developmental programming, refers to maternal/paternal influences at critical periods in pre and peri-conceptional, fetal or neonatal development with resulting persistent postnatal effects on the offspring. Considerable efforts have been made to understand how these influences during specific stages of gestation impact the developmental trajectory of the offspring differently. The fetus responds to stimuli or challenges causing changes in gene expression due to epigenetic modifications (including DNA methylation, histone modifications and non-coding RNAs) that can influence organ structure and/or function and ultimately exert long-term effects on the postnatal offspring. Numerous examples of influences (i.e., nutrition, drugs, or stress) with the potential to program the fetus exist in livestock species. In beef cows, nutrient fluctuations during pregnancy (i.e., over or undernutrition) affects fetal development, with long-term impacts on muscle development hindering the quality of meat and production efficiency. In dairy cattle, exposure to elevated environmental temperature and humidity during pregnancy affects fetal development with long-term implications in health, survivability, and productivity. Rabbit and sheep models of maternal inflammation during gestation can alter placental and fetal development leaving offspring at an increased risk of metabolic and even neurological disorders. In horses, the use of cereal pellets to supplement forage in pregnant mares has been associated with altered metabolism and increased incidence of juvenile osteoarticular lesions in their foals. Due to fetal nutrient partitioning skeletal muscle can be disproportionately affected by fetal growth restriction leading to slowed postnatal growth in ruminants and pigs. Furthermore, maternal insults can influence long-term changes to offspring productivity such as wool production in sheep. Food preference has been shown be influenced by maternal nutrition in several species and this may affect food intake and subsequent production. These observations extend to non-mammalian species such as poultry, where, for example, in ovo supplementation with nutriments affects the capacity of eggs to hatch, chick growth and health as well as meat quality. 

In recent years, it has become more apparent that postnatal early life experiences, particularly the first weeks or months of life outside the womb, can influence the offspring developmental trajectory and productive outcomes later in life. Early life nutrition management (i.e., plane, frequency, quantity, and quality) has been shown to influence gut and rumen development, as well as the establishment of gut microbiota in diary calves with long-lasting implications on production. Postnatal exposure to elevated temperature and humidity significantly reduces dry matter intake with negative consequences on health and growth performance in dairy calves. Moreover, in pigs maternal programming via milk derived factors in early postnatal life have been implicated in reduced fecundity and litter size over multiple parities. In this area of research, it is important to note that maternal insults during late pregnancy, such as undernutrition or heat stress will undoubtedly have carryover effects into early lactation thereby further influencing postnatal development. Other neonatal factors with the potential to influence the offspring long-term include social and housing conditions, husbandry practices, level of exposure to pathogens or infectious environments, among many others. 

Livestock industries are increasingly focusing on improving lifetime performance. Given that the perinatal period is a unique opportunity to shape the animal phenotypes throughout life, identifying challenges and opportunities for manipulating early life conditions to develop more resilient and less vulnerable animals is a growing area of interest. This Research Topic intends to provide a comprehensive overview of the current knowledge about the influence that early life experiences have on the offspring subsequent health and performance in farm animals, and the potential underlying mechanisms leading to phenotypic outcomes later in life. We welcome the submission of Original Research, Review, Mini-Review, Methods and Perspective articles on how early life experiences might impact future health and productivity in livestock species (cattle, sheep, goat, swine, horse, others) that cover, but are not limited to, the following sub-topics:

1. Prenatal (in-utero) and postnatal influences (i.e., nutrition, environment, housing conditions, etc.) programming fetal and neonatal offspring development and its long-term effect on health and performance.

2. Molecular mechanisms by which early-life experiences program health and production.

3. Challenges and opportunities for the manipulation of perinatal development (i.e., what can be avoided or improved to produce beneficial effects in the offspring, or aspects that can be avoided to reduce negative outcomes).


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

18 August 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

18 August 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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