The research in our laboratory integrates the interdisciplinary fields of animal nutrition, immunophysiology, and neuroscience, including the ability of nutrients to impact metabolic, immunologic, and developmental patterns. We focus on comparative animal nutrition, with an emphasis on biochemical aspects of proteins and amino acids, but also strive to integrate immunological and behavioral outcomes as related to overall animal health. One notable project in our lab is the use of a translational piglet model for studying the impact of nutrient intake and infection during the neonatal period on brain development and cognitive function (i.e., learning and memory). Overall, research projects in this laboratory can be broadly categorized into two areas: 1) practical nutrition issues facing animal agriculture, and 2) fundamental nutrition questions studied using translational animal models to improve human/animal health and well-being.

NOAH on Twitter PNCL on Twitter

Neuroimaging reveals lasting brain deficits in iron-deficient piglets

Gut microbes may talk to the brain through cortisol

Nutrition researchers aim to make science more accessible to young minds and the public

Piglet and Baby milk bottle cheers

  • After publishing several scientific papers on nutrition’s role in infant brain development, researchers in the Piglet Nutrition & Cognition Laboratory are working on ways to bring the science of what they study out of the lab and into the hands—and minds—of kids.
  • Frontiers for Young Minds is a scientific journal for kids, in which articles are written by distinguished scientists, and then edited and reviewed by kids. Researchers in Ryan Dilger’s laboratory recently published an article that distilled their previously-published research for kids to understand.
  • The ultimate goal of this publication is to inspire the next generation of scientists, to get them excited about research, and to encourage them to think critically about the world around them.
  • Frontiers Blog Post
  • Original Press Release
  • Frontiers for Young Minds Publication: https://kids.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/frym.2017.00016

Assessing piglet behavior through exploration of objects, tools to explore piglet cognition

  • in a recent study researchers Stephen Fleming, graduate student, and Dr. Ryan Rilger, animal scientist, measure piglet exploratory behavior using the Novel Object Recognition Test.
  • This paper discusses the ability of piglets to recognize previously seen objects and the way they explore their environment. Measuring exploratory behavior provides a tool to assess piglet cognition, which will be used in the future to explore the effects of nutrition on cognitive development.
  • Behavioral Brain Research Publication:http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432816307458

Better early nutrition, better brains: Study discusses model for understanding nutrition and brain development

  • In a recent review article published in Advances in Nutrition, Ryan Dilger, a U of I animal scientist and Austin Mudd, a doctoral student in the neuroscience program, provide background for the work they do with nutrition and neurodevelopment using the piglet as a model.
  • The new paper highlights several studies on pediatric nutrition of which brain development outcomes were the primary interest. The paper also describes technologies, including advances in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), that are being used to assess brain development, as well as outlines areas for future nutrition and neurodevelopment research.
  • Original Press Release
  • Advances in Nutrition Publication: http://advances.nutrition.org/content/8/1/92

Choline deficiency during pregnancy influences milk composition in sows

  • Choline, an essential nutrient, is used by the body in many ways, including in the makeup of cellular membranes and neurodevelopment.
  • Choline deficiency during pregnancy has been shown to delay brain development in pig studies.
  • A new study shows choline deficiency during pregnancy also affects the nutrient composition of sow milk up to 19 days after birth.
  • The study also shows similarities in choline metabolites in sow and human milk composition.
  • Original Press Release
  • Journal of Nutrition Publication: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/early/2016/10/12/jn.116.238832.abstract