Stress Hormones Measured in Hair Offer Potential to Identify Pigs’ Resilience to Disease

Farmscape for April 9, 2024

Full Interview 23:49 Listen

A multi-institutional team, of scientists is exploring the potential of using the levels of stress hormones deposited in the hair of pigs to determine which genetic lines will be more or less able to ward off disease. 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 and performance. Dr. Jack Dekkers, a distinguished professor in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University, says the goal is to develop methods by which genetic companies can determine a pig’s disease resilience without exposing it to disease.

Quote-Dr. Jack Dekkers-Iowa State University:
We all know from our own experiences that if we get stressed we are more susceptible to disease. If we get stressed the immune system gets activated and it is less able to respond to viruses or bacteria. We know that animals respond to stress and disease.
They go hand in hand. They are interwoven pathways in terms of how an animal responds to different external factors and they are very important. We know that disease is one of the most important cost factors in swine production.

We also know that stress can have a huge impact and both stress and disease have huge implications for animal welfare and ultimately if we have animals that are less resistant to disease, we need to use more veterinary treatments, antibiotics, the danger of resistance of pathogens to antibiotics. Ultimately it can also have an impact on human health.

Dr. Dekkers says by correlating the levels of stress hormones in the hair to growth performance and disease resilience it should be possible to calculate which genetic lines of pigs will be more or less affected by stress.

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