Dr. Stahl Collaborates to Improve the Efficiency of Muscle Growth in Pigs, with Implications for Sustainability and Health

Research examines supplementation and epigenetic changes that could translate to improved muscle growth and future health applications in animals and humans

Image Credit: Edwin Remsberg

July 21, 2021 Samantha Watters

The University of Maryland (UMD) received funding from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to enhance the overall quality and efficiency of pork production through improved muscle growth in pigs. While early life nutrition seems to be especially important for how muscles grow and develop, less is known about how these benefits can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy. According to the USDA, the United States is the world’s third-largest pork producer. In this $20 billion industry, increased and faster muscle growth means a healthier animal, less feed and waste to raise that animal, and ultimately a more competitive and sustainable pork industry. In partnership with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), this work could also have future applications beyond just the pork industry to optimize human performance and treat wounded service members.

The key to these applications could lie in the epigenetic changes (or changes to how your genes are expressed) and stem cell activity caused by a simple supplement - butyric acid. According to Chad Stahl, professor and chair in the Department of Animal & Avian Sciences at UMD and principal investigator of this work, butyric acid is a compound that humans and animals get naturally from their diet, and it has a profound effect on muscle growth, development, and even repair by stimulating muscle stem cells.

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