Monday, February 7, 2022

Researchers use hair to measure hog stress

Hair samples can be used to measure stress in pigs and that, in turn, can point to genetics that enable pigs to better cope with stress.

Canadians in Quebec and Saskatchewan are partners with Iowa State University in the research which recently received $500,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture.

The research team is gathering hair samples from pigs in a Quebec research facility and the University of Saskatchewan is performing the hair analysis.

They are looking into a wide range of stressful situations, everything from weaning to transportation, from disease challenges to fighting when pigs are mingled.

Jack Dekkers, a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University and principal investigator of the study, said stress causes the production of the stress hormone cortisol and its counterpart, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). 

These hormones are deposited in hair as it grows. Dekkers compares these deposits in hair to tree rings. Studying the rings of a tree stump yields clues about that tree’s history. 

Studying the concentration of cortisol and DHEA in hair samples can help scientists piece together the level of stress an organism has experienced and how it has responded to that stress. 

Dekkers’ lab will receive all the data collected from the hair samples and search for patterns that indicate which pigs respond to stress better than others. Dekkers said they’ll look for a low ratio of cortisol to DHEA.