Dr. Alejandro Relling's Research on Sheep Could Have Impacts for Humans

April 2, 2018

Dr. Alejandro “Ale” Relling’s research in nutritional physiology could have long-term impacts for both ruminants and humans. His research on sheep helps researchers understand body-weight increases in sheep, which may also lead to better understanding obesity in humans.

Relling was born and raised in Venado Tuerto, Argentina, a small city approximately 250 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. He grew up helping his grandfather and uncle on a dairy farm; this lead to an interest in animal sciences. He would earn his associate’s degree in Venado Tuerto and a DVM from La Plata National University in Argentina.

“When I finished my DVM I went into an exchange program with the University of Minnesota, to work on a dairy farm for nine months and then take some classes at the university,” said Relling. “Taking those classes I became exposed to research. So after that my goal was to study for the TOEFL and the GRE.”

Relling started his MS in Animal Sciences at The Ohio State University in 2003. He completed his master’s degree in winter quarter 2006 and started his PhD with the Ohio State University Nutrition Program (OSUN) in spring quarter 2006. He completed his PhD in spring quarter 2009. Relling returned to Argentina to work as a professor at La Plata National University and as a member of the Argentinean NRC. He rejoined Ohio State in 2015 as an Assistant Professor.

“I had the advantage that I did my graduate degrees here. I knew the place, and when I heard that the position was open, I spoke with my wife and decided to apply,” said Relling. “It is a very good university, with a department with very broad areas of research, where I could find a lot of collaboration and teamwork. Also, Wooster is a great place to raise a family.”

Relling focuses his research on nutritional physiology. “I study the impact of nutrients in the endocrine system and how those signaling hormones translate to differences in performance,” said Relling. “I amphoto courtesy of Brady Campbell interested in how specific fatty acids regulate energy partitioning and utilization; what are the endocrine mechanisms needed to increase the differentiation and filling of intramuscular adipose tissue.”

Relling’s primary focus of research is studying the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet of pregnant ewes and the impact on offspring. Relling has won industry grants to conduct this research.

“We found that the offspring of omega-3 fatty acids supplemented ewes grow faster than lambs born from ewes supplemented with saturated fatty acids or no supplementation. The novelty of this research is that we can evaluate the impact that the maternal diet has on the offspring; also, the amount of omega-3 fatty acids that we use is small, considering normal supplementation rate in ruminants,” said Relling. “We are still trying to understand the physiological mechanism of this regulation. We are focusing the relevance into improving performance (growth rate and feed efficiency) that will help producers be more profitable; we consider the ewe model a good model to study fetal programming in humans. Therefore, we are developing a model that might simulate increase in body weight and its implications on obesity in humans.”

Relling does not just focus on sheep. Having previously worked on dairy farms, he is also interested in both beef and dairy cattle.

“In beef, we are evaluating potential markers (genes) of intramuscular pre-adipocytes proliferation and differentiation, to evaluate how we can increase the expression of those markers. For that, we are using different breed models with different potential for marbling to evaluate a candidate that is represented in all the breeds and that we can change its expression by changing the hormones and metabolites profile,” said Relling. “In dairy, we are evaluating the effect of prebiotics in gut health, the mechanism of regulating gut permeability and how different hormones and cytokines regulate this mechanism. We are trying to understand the mechanism that causes diarrhea in dairy calves and find tools to ameliorate the problem.”Dr. Alejandro "Ale" Relling

Since Relling’s return to Ohio State, he has published 10 scientific peer reviewed papers, with three more currently in press. One of these was an invited review on energy efficiency in the journal “Animal”. Relling and his undergraduate and graduate students have presented more than 15 abstracts in scientific meetings, including the Midwest American Society of Animal Science (ASAS)-American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) meeting, ADSA Annual Meeting, and ASAS Annual Meeting. He also presents his research in seminars at other universities in the USA, and outside the USA (Mexico and Argentina).

When not conducting research, Relling enjoys spending time with his family. He is married to Clara, from Spain, and they currently have four sons: Santiago (almost 6), Lucas (4), David (almost 3) and Mateo (1). They have a fifth child on the way.

Dr. Alejando Relling focuses his research on nutritional physiology in ruminants. His research on the diet of pregnant ewes and their resulting lambs, could lead to a better understanding of obesity in humans.