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Can we have it all? Optimising maternal fertility and lifespan through diet

Sophie Fosh, Ximonie Clark, Lucy Griffiths, Therese Freire, Tamara Pulpitel, David Le Couteur, Stephen Simpson, David Raubenheimer and Samantha Solon-Biet

Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Nutrition profoundly influences reproduction and lifespan. The balance of protein to carbohydrate is a key contributor, with diets low in protein and high in carbohydrate associated with better metabolic health and longevity. Conversely, diets high in protein and low in carbohydrate improved indicators of latelife reproductive function. However, the question of whether diet can be used to optimise both lifespan and fertility remains unknown. Using a series of diet manipulations, we examined the effect of dietary protein to carbohydrate balance on maternal health, reproduction and lifespan. Here, we aim to 1) manipulate the protein to carbohydrate balance across life-course to determine if diet influences fertility and lifespan; and 2) to offer a choice of foods and detail the macronutrient selection mice throughout puberty, gestation, lactation and ageing. Based on the preliminary data, high protein, low carbohydrate diets yielded offspring with a higher body weight at birth and weaning compared to dams fed a low protein, high carbohydrate diet. While no difference in pup number was apparent between groups, the proportion of male to female pups differed, with the low protein diet generating a greater proportion of females.


Preliminary data from macronutrient selection experiments show that female mice do in fact regulate intake through gestation and lactation, with a bias towards consuming a carbohydrate-rich diet. The project brings together two major disciplines – nutritional geometry and evolutionary theory –to address a topic of fundamental significance in biology, animal and human health – the “cost of reproduction”, where lifespan and fecundity are negatively correlated. Using nutritional geometry, we will bridge together the diet-reproduction-longevity nexus. These findings will provide significant advancement to the field of nutrition and evolutionary biology.