The International Milk Genomics Consortium (IMGC) brought their seventh annual symposium on milk genomics and human health to UC Davis on October 20-22, 2010. The annual symposium focuses on facilitating and promoting communication among researchers in the developing field of milk genomics through a series of invited speakers from the areas of genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and bioinformatics.
The IMGC positions the symposium as a point of entry for industry, academic, research institutions and government agencies involved in milk genomics worldwide to meet, share research findings, and foster new collaborations in their fields. Conference participants represented universities, labs, and industry organizations traveling from Europe, Australia, and across the United States. The symposium aims to “increase communication and collaboration among milk and mammary scientists, [and] accelerate research into the biological process underlying milk” in order to strengthen our general understanding of the health traits for mothers and their offspring.
The three-day event featured panel discussion, individual paper presentations and poster sessions to highlight the work of researchers, academic professionals and students. Presentations focused on issues regarding milk lactation, mammary gland regulation and development, and the effects of milk on infant development. Looking across species and from a comparative perspective, speakers presented their research on a variety of topics dealing with the biology of lactation.
Regarding human lactation, Peggy Neville of University of Colorado and Monique Rijnkels of Baylor College both spoke during the session on milk biology and genomics. Neville examined the role of the insulin receptor in mammary development during pregnancy, and Rijnkels provided a view of the epigenetic, or changes of gene expression from factors other than the underlying DNA sequence, landscape in the developing lactating mammary gland. The conversation around human lactation continued with Danielle Lemay, of UC Davis, discussing the genomic organization of the mammary transcriptome (the set of all RNA molecules) into gene neighborhoods.
Michael Affolter, representing the Nestlé Research Centre in Switzerland, provided a fascinating overview of Nestlé infant formula development and the research being done to identify human and bovine milk proteins in order to produce an optimal infant formula that can reduce allergic diseases. The following presentation by Guy Vergeres of Agroscope assessed the physiological properties and nutritional biology of dairy products through a nutrigenomic strategy. Both presentations supported the IMGC mission of fostering work that focuses on “specific milk-derived proteins to use as an integral component to improve overall human health and nutrition.”
Robert Ward, of Utah State University, acknowledges that the conference is “unique [in its ability to] bring together individuals with expertise in phylogeny, gene expression, biochemistry and so many other areas.” Ward’s research involves isolating specific components of dairy products and testing them for potential beneficial bioactivity. In his presentation, he offered the case of a well-known colon cancer rat model to investigate the potential effects of a membrane-rich component of milk which is a byproduct of butter manufacturing.
Attendees found the IMGC symposium most valuable for expanding their knowledge, expertise, and networking opportunities across discrete fields, as well as bringing together diverse research and industry interests. For example, dairy producers and manufacturers learning about new research and developing technologies that assist in translating the knowledge of milk genomics into usable benefits for producers, manufacturers and consumers of dairy products. Participants are offered an opportunity to network with other researchers and industry professionals. As well, conferences such as the IMGC symposium provides a place to lay the groundwork for future developments in the fields of human lactation, the biology of mammalian lactation in general, and the vital work being done on milk throughout the world.