A nutritional intervention study with mini-pigs.

EpiPIG is a research study in which we are giving mini-pigs either a ‘Western’ high fat/high sugar diet or a normal pig diet to better understand what epigenetic impact this has on their sperm.


Metabolic changes in men, such as weight loss in humans and an unhealthy high fat diet in rodents, has been shown to drive epigenetic changes in sperm cells along with changes to the health of their future children.

In this study, we will examine if changes to the diet of male mini pigs alters the epigenetic information carried by their sperm in a way which could affect the epigenetic pattern and/or development of future offspring. We have chosen to study mini pigs due to the biological similarity between pigs and humans.  This study will allow us to better understand what epigenetic features of the sperm are conserved throughout evolution, along with deciphering which epigenetic responses to nutritional challenges are unique to humans.

Overall, this study allows us to uncover how exposure of fathers-to-be to certain diets causes changes to the genetic material of their sperm.  Understandings gained from this experiment are the first step in determining if and how paternal nutrition shapes offspring predisposition to obesity or disease.


Mini-pigs are fed either a conventional healthy diet or an obesogenic ‘Western diet’ rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol. over the course of three months.  This Western Diet is meant to mimic the unhealthy fast food diets, currently consumed by humans in several high-income countries, and causes overeating in the mini pigs, which in turn causes rapid weight gain. We collect sperm samples from the mini pigs at several different time points during the study, including directly prior to and directly after the three-month dietary intervention.  The sperm samples are then analysed for epigenetic changes in response to the diets. Thanks to mini-pigs being quite smart, we have been able to train them to mount a ‘dummy sow’ to deliver a natural ejaculate, making the process of collecting sperm easy, safe for the animal and fast!


2019 2023 2022

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