RDAR Research Program Officer recognized for outstanding PhD thesis

RDAR is delighted to congratulate Dr. Natalie Diether, Research Program Officer, for receiving the 2023 University of Alberta Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences (ALES) Graduate Student Ph.D. Thesis Award. This prestigious honour is given in recognition of Natalie’s dissertation on microbes, metabolites and gut health, describes her work to understand the relationship between dietary interventions and post-weaning diarrhea in pigs. 

Presented by the ALES Faculty, this annual award recognizes the top thesis submitted by 34 Ph.D. students this year.  

One of RDAR’s Directors is also the Dean of ALES. Dr. Stanford Blade says, “As Dean I always enjoy shaking hands with our grads on stage during the Convocation ceremony. As an RDAR Director imagine my elation when I saw Dr. Diether waiting with her PhD robe and cowl to formally receive her doctoral degree. Dr. Diether is a great representative of our Faculty - an articulate professional who has proven herself as a researcher and industry innovator.” 

Dr. Diether’s thesis work focused on understanding dietary interventions for disease by exploring host and microbial metabolic networks. Natalie identified critical functional changes in the gut microbiota and metabolism that could be supported through dietary intervention. Her research identified key functional changes that can reduce post-weaning diarrhea. One important finding for producers was the benefit of medium-chain fatty acid and organic acid supplementation in supporting digestive function, microbiota maturation and in turn exclusion of opportunistic pathogens.  

The findings from these studies show how to better support weaned pigs and reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance that can impair disease treatment in humans and animals. Antimicrobial resistance is an emerging animal welfare and public health issue linked to antimicrobial use in livestock.  

Antimicrobials are often needed in nursery pigs after weaning, a stressful period for pigs, to prevent post-weaning infections, and Natalie’s work focussed on alternatives to antibiotic treatment. 

“Since joining RDAR, Dr. Diether has been trusted with shaping RDAR’s animal health project portfolio. Her deep sector knowledge strengthens RDAR’s team,” says Dr. David Chalack, RDAR Chair. “We are proud to have such exemplary scientists on our team, and her work highlights the importance of understanding swine health to promote a sustainable, safe and profitable pork industry for Alberta pork producers and consumers.” 

Hearty congratulations to Dr. Diether for this well-earned recognition. To explore the talents and experience of RDAR’s team, please visit