UK Graduate Student Spotlight: Ashley Wagner-Wells

Ashley Wagner-Wells studied equine protein metabolism and skeletal muscle physiology during her time at UK.

Photo: University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

Name: Ashley Wagner-Wells
From: Cheriton, Virginia
Degree and institutions where received: BS in Animal Science and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech;
MS in Animal and Poultry Science with an emphasis in nonruminant nutrition, Virginia Tech;
PhD in Animal and Food Sciences with an emphasis in equine nutrition, University of Kentucky.

Ashley Wagner-Wells chose to study equine protein metabolism and skeletal muscle physiology at the University of Kentucky (UK) under the guidance of Kristine Urschel, PhD. Specifically, for her dissertation, she looked at factors affecting equine skeletal muscle protein synthesis.

Also during her time at UK Wagner-Wells studied the effects of advanced age on horses’ whole-body protein synthesis and skeletal muscle mechanistic target of rapamycin signaling—a signaling pathway that, when activated, stimulates translation initiation of a protein and, ultimately, protein synthesis. She also examined the effect of gluteus medius muscle (which is located in the horse’s hind end and forms the swell or round of the croup) sample collection depth on postprandial (post-feeding) mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling in mature Thoroughbred mares. Due to the fact that muscle fiber type changes with gluteal muscle depth, and the mTOR pathway has been shown to react to stimuli different in various fiber types, Wagner-Wells wanted to verify that sampling depth did not affect the signaling pathway. She found that although there were changes in the fiber types, there were no differences in the signaling pathway.

The last project Wagner-Wells worked on during her time at UK was studying developmental regulation of the activation of skeletal muscle’s translation initiation factors in response to feeding in horses.

When asked what her most valuable takeaway from the program was, Wagner-Wells said, “As horses grow and mature, their ability to activate the signaling pathway that is responsible for protein synthesis and thus muscle mass accretion is lowered with age. Inflammation that is associated with aging in geriatric animals may be one of the culprits for this phenomenon.”

Wagner-Wells also appreciated Urschel’s motto in her laboratory: “Mistakes are okay. Mistakes happen, but if you keep record of everything you do, mistakes can be learned from.” She said the motto is something that goes far beyond lab work and well into life.

She also met her husband during her time at UK, so she considers that a valuable personal take away.

Wagner-Wells graduated in 2011 and now works as a technical sales manager with Probiotech International, a feed additive company. She has many responsibilities, including research and new product development, product formulations, sales, marketing, and regulatory to name a few.

Alexandra Harper, MBA, is the operations and communications coordinator for the UK Ag Equine Programs.

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