ASAS Centennial Paper: Lactation biology for the twenty-first century

J. J. Loor, W. S. Cohick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Knowledge of general aspects of mammary gland function, including metabolic pathways and hormonal regulation of mammary gland development and lactation, in livestock species was obtained several decades ago. As basic biological information of growth factor action, apoptotic mechanisms, and signal transduction events has exploded, the mouse became the model of choice for studying fundamental mechanisms regulating mammary function. A complete sequenced genome also has made the mouse amenable for studies of mammary gene network expression. Advances in molecular biology techniques currently allow researchers to genetically modify mice to either overexpress or completely lack specific genes, thereby studying their function in an in vivo setting. Furthermore, the use of mammary-specific promoters has allowed genes related to mammary gland function to be eliminated from the mammary gland in a developmental and tissue-specific manner. These studies have demonstrated the complexity that underlies mammary gland development and function in rodents and may provide insight into the mechanisms that ultimately allow the ruminantor swine mammary gland to function in a coordinated fashion throughout puberty, pregnancy, lactation, and involution. The challenge facing animal scientists is how to obtain similar information in much larger and expensive livestock. One possible approach is to manipulate gene expression in vitro using mammary cell culture models derived from domestic animals (e.g., genes can be "knocked down" using small interfering RNA approaches). Ultimately, major advances in understanding lactation biology may come from coupling basic mechanistic information with functional genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics approaches. A strong foundation in bioinformatics will also be required to optimize use of these new technologies. Stem cell biology also represents an exciting area in the next decade that holds promise for improving lactation efficiency. Strong training of our future scientists in these areas should facilitate livestock-focused mammary gland research that will allow basic information to be gained at unprecedented amounts, ultimately leading to optimization of livestock production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)813-824
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Genome
  • Mammary gland
  • Micro ribonucleic acid
  • Small interfering ribonucleic acid
  • Stem cell
  • Systems biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'ASAS Centennial Paper: Lactation biology for the twenty-first century'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this