Assistant Professor
Campbell Hall 173A
(205) 934-9684

Research and Teaching Interests: Comparative Biology, Developmental Physiology, Growth Biology, Service Learning in Biology

Peggy Bigga. Office Hours: By appointment

  • BA, Angelo State University, Animal Science
  • MA, Angelo State University, Nutrition
  • PhD, University of Idaho, Nutritional Physiology

I grew up in west Texas, where I learned how to tolerate the heat! I majored in animal science because I wanted to become a veterinarian or a medical doctor. I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do with my life until I became involved in a research project involving dietary effects on growth and health. I then decided to continue my academic training. During my studies I became increasingly interested in comparative biology and started to develop a platform to study differential growth potential in animals. I continued to develop it through my post-doctoral training at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA and even now in my laboratory at UAB.

The main focus of my research laboratory is to identify molecular pathways and mechanisms that regulate why some animals can continually grow (by adding NEW muscle fibers) throughout their lives. I believe this is important to understand because many human diseases are accompanied by drastic loss of muscle tone, mass, and function. A better understanding of new fiber formation could potentially be used to combat or lessen muscle-wasting syndromes. Additionally, understanding the mechanisms of developmental cell fate determination that leads to specific adult phenotypes will broaden our overall understanding of basic biology.

I teach comparative developmental biology each Fall semester to Seniors and Graduate students. This course is taught using problem-based strategies and portfolio-based assessments. In this course, students play a vital role in course atmosphere, direction, and sometimes teaching and learning. I believe that student learning must involve student input and not just teacher lecturing, so I strive to offer a course that is interactive and fun!

CV: Download PDF

My research focus revolves around the comparative analysis of skeletal muscle growth, where we are interested in identifying gene pathways and mechanisms that regulate an organism’s final adult growth potential. For example, I reached my growth plateau when I was about 19 years of age. This means that I will no longer grow any taller and my overall body mass will fluctuate up and down based upon energy input versus energy output. Additionally, I have a somewhat fixed number of skeletal muscle fibers that was determined during my fetal development. Most terrestrial vertebrates exhibit growth with a similar pre-defined plateau that is reached near sexual maturity; after this there is an inability to augment normal growth with the addition of new muscle fibers. However, many fish species continually growth throughout their lives without reaching a pre-defined plateau or limit in length. These fish also have the ability to augment their growth by adding new muscle fibers while enlarging pre-existing fibers.

Over the past decade, my lab has characterized closely related fish species that exhibit these opposing growth types. We have used them as model organisms to begin identifying differences in their molecular networks that may reflect these very different growth abilities. We have recently identified a few candidate gene products that may play a key role in defining an organism’s growth potential. The Biga lab is now currently working on answering specific questions related to these candidate genes and muscle growth potential using primary cell culture (in vitro) and transgenic technologies (in vivo).

The lab also is interested in how very specific growth-related hormones and growth factors affect growth in various adverse situations, such as stress and nutritional deprivation or nutrient alterations. We are particularly interested in what role myostatin plays in growth regulation, cell fate decision, and nutrient partitioning. We are also interested in understanding the local roles of growth hormone and cortisol on muscle growth.
Follow the linked course names to see sample syllabi which describe course aims, learning objectives, requirements, and schedules. These are samples only. The instructor may make changes to these syllabi in future courses.
Current Student: Download a list of past graduate students.
  • Galt NJ, Froehlich JM, Remily EA, Romero SR, and Biga PR, "The effects of exogenous cortisol on myostatin transcription in rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss," E-pub: Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology (PMID: 24875565, 2014).
  • Picha ME, Biga PR, Galt N, McGinty AS, Gross K, Hedgepeth VS, Siopes TD, and Borski RJ, "Overcompensation of circulating and local insulin-like growth factor-I during catch-up growth in hybrid striped bass (Morone chrysops X Morone saxatilis) following temperature and feeding manipulation," Aquaculture (428-429, 2014): 174-83.
  • Froehlich JM, Seiliez I, Gabillard JC, and Biga, PR, "Preparation of Primary Myogenic Precursor Cell/Myoblast Cultures from Basal Vertebrate Lineages," Journal of Visualized Experiments 86 (April 30 2014, doi:10.3791/51354, PMID: 24835774).
  • Goetz FW, Jasonowicz A, Johnson R, Biga PR, Fischer G, and Sitar S, "Physiological differences between siscowet and lean trout morphotypes: Are these metabolotypes?," Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 71 (No. 3, 2014): 427-35.
  • Galt NJ, Froehlich JM, Meyer BM, Barrows FT, and Biga PR, "High-fat diet reduces local myostatin-1 paralog expression and alters skeletal muscle lipid content in rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss," Fish Physiology and Biochemistry 40 (No. 3, 2014, PMID: 24264425): 875-86.
  • Gabillard JC, Biga PR, Rescan PY, and Seiliez I, "Revisiting the paradigm of myostatin in vertebrates: insights from fishes," General and Comparative Endocrinology 194C (2013, PMID: 24018114): 45-54.
  • Froehlich JM, Fowler ZG, Galt NJ, Smith DL Jr., and Biga PR, "Sarcopenia and piscines: the case for indeterminate-growing fish as unique genetic model organisms in aging and longevity research," Frontiers of Genetics in Aging 4 (No. 159, 2013 PMID: 23967015).
  • Froehlich JM, Galt NJ, Charging MJ, Meyer BM, and Biga PR, "In vitro indeterminate teleost myogenesis appears to be dependent on Pax3," In vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology-Animal 49 (No. 5, 2013, PMID: 23613306): 371-85.
  • Biga PR, Froehlich JM, Greenlee KJ, Galt NJ, Meyer BM, and Christensen DJ, "Gelatinases impart susceptibility to high-fat diet induced obesity in mice," Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 24 (No. 8, 2013, PMID: 23465590): 1462-68.
  • Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology
  • American Fisheries Society, Physiology Chapter
  • North American Society of Comparative Endocrinology
I co-host the department’s annual Darwin Day. If you are interested in this celebration of science, please contact me!