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$500K Grant Supports Research on Muscle Growth in Pigs, With Broader Health Implications

By Samantha Watters

A $500,000 award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture is supporting University of Maryland-led research to enhance pork production through improved muscle growth in pigs.

While early life nutrition is especially important for how muscles grow and develop, less is known about how these benefits can be passed from mother to offspring during pregnancy. For the $20 billion U.S. pork industry, increased and faster muscle growth would result in healthier animals, 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), this work could also have future applications beyond 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 genes are expressed) and stem cell activity caused by a simple supplement—butyric acid.

“Over the last decade, we’ve published some nutritional work in this area showing the impact of butyric acid and other dietary components on the activity of tissue-specific stem cells, and feeding butyric acid to pigs resulted in faster muscle growth,” said Chad Stahl, professor and chair in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences who is leading the research. “If we are able to make the muscle fibers grow bigger because of the activity of these muscle stem cells, we want to see what happens if we are giving these compounds to the pregnant sow during fetal development.”

Stahl conducted previous research in this area with his former student, Robert Murray Ph.D. ’18. Now an assistant professor with USUHS and a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, he is a co-investigator on this grant.

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