U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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Agricultural Research April 2013


Undergoing surgery, even a minor procedure, can be stressful for anyone. But for people who have malignant hyperthermia, a hereditary disease that’s triggered by certain drugs used for general anesthesia, it can also be dangerous.

Research into this rare, life-threatening condition, which causes a fast rise in body temperature, severe muscle contractions, and sometimes death, was limited until the discovery of a similar disorder in pigs, referred to as “porcine stress syndrome.” The classical syndrome is associated with poor response to stressors like transport and with poor-quality pork. It has been eliminated from commercial herds in the United States, but stress-related issues, most often associated with transportation, continue to cause substantial losses—an estimated $50 million per year—to the U.S. swine industry.

These issues indicate that there may be another stress-related syndrome affecting the health and well-being of pigs in the United States. In response to these concerns, scientists at the Agricultural Research Service’s Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Clay Center, Nebraska, have identified a previously undetected genetic stress syndrome that is most likely affecting the swine industry. They are mapping the defect in pigs to get to the root of the problem.