The Lab Animal Nutrition Core (LAN) was established in 2019 to study, advise, formulate, and produce lab animal diets for research in a number of animal models with translation to human health. Recent guidelines provided by the NIH suggest that diet is an important variable affecting a number of human morbidities including obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colitis, and cancer. Recent NIH guidelines on rigor and reproducibility suggest diet is an essential component of experimental design in lab animal research. With our expertise, we have established a Lab Animal Nutrition subcore in the Animal Models Core of NORC to provide information on diet and its role in experimental design, as well as the ability to formulate and produce diets for a variety of animal models.

The Importance of Diet in Animal Models

Maintaining animal health is critical for investigators using animal models, and good nutrition is a key component of health. For rodents, standard chow diets, produced by the inclusion of practical, often undefined ingredients, are useful for successful colony maintenance, but lack rigor for use in many experimental trials. Similar chow-type diets have been developed for other model species such as fish, but these ingredient formulations are generally proprietary, making it difficult to determine the cause and effect of specific nutrients in experimental designs. Standard reference diets, composed of known ingredients, are available for rodents, but in many laboratory species, nutritionally complete (or replete) diets are not commercially available. For this reason, there has been a national emphasis on the development of standardized reference diets in all animal models.

Recently, it has become evident that typical rodent diets must be revisited, as the last national update occurred in 1993. We have begun working with Envigo TEKLAD and Research Diets Inc. (lab animal diet manufacturers) to evaluate new formulations of rodent and other model diets. The LAN subcore has begun formulating mouse diets for UAB investigators in the School of Medicine, and there is strong interest from other investigators. These diets can be custom formulated to promote a particular physiological state, remove or add a potentially confounding nutritional variable, or include a pharmaceutical/ nutraceutical intervention. We anticipate even greater interest in custom diet formulations in the future as more researchers are aware of this service.

Services and Fees


The LAN subcore will consult with investigators concerning experimental design and nutritional requirements at no charge. Formulation of specific diets, particularly those which contain pharmacologic or nutraceutical compounds, is charged at $100 per hour.

Diet Preparation:

The LAN subcore maintains a kitchen facility and equipment for measuring, mixing, and extruding fresh diets with appropriately-sourced ingredients. Diets can include bioactive food components and can be natural or irradiated, depending on the application. Typical diets are produced in 1-3 kg minimums; however, larger or smaller quantities can be requested. Specialty ingredients, bioactive food components, nutraceuticals, or pharmacological agents are priced according to the market.

Nutrient Analysis:

Ingredient composition and nutritional information can be obtained on any diet or dietary ingredient. Diets can be analyzed for proximate composition as well as vitamin or mineral composition. Specialty ingredients can be quantitatively assayed by request.

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The LAN subcore maintains a diet preparation facility that includes the following:

  • Walk-in refrigeration storage of ingredient and diet stocks
  • Two 20 quart planetary mixers with chopping end attachments for feed extrusion – Hobart model A200
  • One 6 quarts planetary mixer with pasta maker attachment for feed extrusion – Kitchen Aid Professional 600
  • One single-tier Jar mill with 5 jars of differing capacities for mixing and grinding – Gilson model LC-91. Many ingredients can be milled to sieve sizes of 200 um or less as needed
  • A grinding mill for feed and ingredient grinding – Blendtec Kitchen Mill model 91
  • A vibratory sieve shaker with various sized sieve screens for particle separation – Gilson model SS-10
  • An air drying oven for feed drying – Gilson model OT-2
  • Appropriate balances for precision inclusion of dietary ingredients or other compounds, including a Mettler Toledo Microbalance

Food-grade ingredients are purchased from approved commercial vendors. Ingredients are weighed and mixed in a Patterson-Kelley liquid-solids blender and/or a Hobart A-200. A mash is extruded through a chopper attachment on the Hobart, passed through a die to produce moist strands, which are air-dried to a moisture content of ca. 8%. Food preparation is accomplished in a kitchen that has 15 air changes per hour with all air exhausted outside. During the mixing process, the mixer is housed in a custom box to block any dust, and technicians wear shoe covers, lab coats, dusk masks, and gloves. Dried feeds are labeled with production and expiration dates and coded for content. They are placed in vacuum-sealed or Zip-lock baggies (1 gallon) and are stored in a walk-in refrigerator. Foods are usually used within a six-month period. The blender is sanitized with appropriate disinfectants after each use.

Core Users

Core services are available to UAB investigators and other institutions. Past and current clients include the following:

  • UAB investigators in the Department of Surgery, Psychology, Nutrition Sciences, Neuroscience, Biology, Pediatric Surgery
  • USDA
  • USDA Egg Nutrition Council
  • Texas A&M University
  • NIH Xiphophorus Genetic Stock Center at Texas State University
  • The University of Utah
  • Children’s Boston Hospital
  • Harvard University
  • Duke University
  • Auburn University
  • The Zebrafish International Resource Center, University of Oregon
  • Meridian Biotech, Inc.
  • Biowish Technologies, Inc.
  • Birmingham Southern College

Recently, the NIH asked the LAN to provide samples of zebrafish lab diets to their Animal Program Director in the Office of Laboratory Animal Medicine in the National Human Genome Research Institute located in Maryland. NIH wants to develop a long term relationship with the LAN for consultation and production of reference and experimental diets.

Additionally, the LAN participated in obtaining an NIH R-41 STTR Phase I with Meridian Biotech LLC to evaluate new protein sources for animal diets. This is an exciting collaboration between core and business development.

The LAN has partnerships with many vendors, including:

  • Envigo Teklab, Inc.
  • Research Diets, Inc.
  • Dyets
  • Ziegler Brothers, Inc.
  • Rangen
  • MP Biomedical


Dr. Stephen Watts is a Professor of Biology with over 30 years of experience in animal nutrition. He is the Chair of an NIH ORIP subcommittee on standardized diet development in model organisms.


  • Dr. Mickie Powell (Assistant Professor; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.),
  • Jeff Barry (Senior Research Technologist; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), and
  • Sophie Chehade (Senior Researcher; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Phone: (205) 934-2045
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.