Stress Hormones Measured in Hair of Pigs Indicative of Disease Resilience

Jun 03, 2024

A multi-institutional team of scientists has shown stress hormone levels measured in the hair of pigs can potentially be used by breeding companies as an indicator of disease resilience.Researchers with Iowa State University, the Universities of Saskatchewan and Alberta and CDPQ, with funding from PigGen Canada, Genome Alberta, Genome Prairie and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are measuring the levels of stress hormones in the hair of pigs to evaluate the effect of stress on disease resilience.

Dr. Jack Dekkers, a distinguished professor in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University, says the work has shown cortisol levels in hair can be a predictor of whether an animal is more or less disease resilient.

Quote-Dr. Jack Dekkers-Iowa State University:

Breeding companies are interested in finding things that they can measure in young healthy animals that are predictors of response to stress and disease and they will be the first users.If it's heritable and it's genetically correlated to disease resistance and to stress response then that gives them a way to select that have a better response to stress and also have better disease resilience.

Then, ultimately producers will benefit from that because they'll be able to get breeding stock, they'll be able to buy gilts and semen or boars that are more resilient to disease.If this works very well then producers could also potentially use these assays conducted on hair directly to identify which of their animals are more affected by stress and are more or less disease resilient but that would require some development in the assays because the assays right now are fairly expensive so the cost of that would have to come down.

Collecting hair is fairly straight forward but conducting the assay measuring stress hormone levels in hair is still quite time consuming and laboursome because the hair has to be cleaned, it has to be ground and then the assays have to be conducted.

Dr. Dekkers suggests, for that to be practical at the farm level, additional technology developments will need to be achieved.

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