Episode 62: Keith Baar talks about muscle and explains mTOR, PGC-1a, dystrophin, and the benefits of chocolate

// Apr 24, 2018

Today’s episode is the first of a two-part interview with Dr. Keith Baar, the head of the Functional Molecular Biology Laboratory in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior at the University of California, Davis.

In his capacity as a researcher, Keith has made fundamental discoveries on how muscle grows bigger, stronger, and more fatigue resistant. He is a renowned scientist in the emerging field of molecular exercise physiology, and is leading a team of researchers attempting to develop ways to improve muscle, tendon and ligament function.

Part one of our interview features our conversation with Keith about his background and his time time in the lab of John Holloszy, who is known as the father of exercise research in the United States.

Episode 63 of STEM-Talk has Dawn and Ken talking to Keith about his most recent research, which is looking at how to determine the best way to train, as well as what types of foods compliment training to decrease tendon and ligament injury and accelerate return to play. This work has the potential to improve muscle function and people’s quality of life, especially as they age. Ken and Dawn also have a conversation with Keith about the research he is doing on a ketogenic diet and its potential to reduce cancer rates and improve cognition.


UC Davis physiology department bio:

UC Davis biology department bio”

Functional Molecular Biology Lab website:

Molecular brakes regulating mTORC1 activation in skeletal muscle paper:

Age-related Differences in Dystrophin article:

 Show notes:

3:14: Dawn opens the interview by mentioning that Keith grew up in Canada, and asks what he was like as a child.

4:02: Dawn asks if Keith was interested in science as a kid.

4:53: Dawn comments that after high school, Keith came to the U.S. to attend the University of Michigan, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. She Keith if Michigan was where he first became interested in the science of how muscles work.

7:54: Dawn asks Keith if he played any sports at Michigan.

8:34: Dawn asks what lead Keith to attend the University of California, Berkeley to pursue a master’s degree in human biophysics.

9:39: Dawn mentions that after his time at Berkeley, Keith returned to the Midwest to attend the University of Illinois where he received his doctorate in physiology and biophysics. She asks why he decided on Illinois for his doctoral work.

11:12: Ken mentions that Keith’s Ph.D. work focused on the effect of resistance exercise on specific molecular markers that are related to muscle growth. He goes on to say that Keith identified that mTOR complex 1 was activated in response to resistance exercise and that the activation was proportional to the load across the muscle. He asks Keith to talk about this work and its significance.

16:20: Ken comments how surprising that discovery must have been.

17:33: Ken asks Keith to explain the two basic ways of activating mTORC1 in skeletal muscle. Ken also asks whether these two are merely additive, or if together they elicit a greater muscle protein response than either would independently.

29:49: Dawn mentions that after Illinois, Keith went to work in the lab of John Holloszy at Washington University in St. Louis, a professor of medicine who is known as the father of exercise research in the United States. Dawn asks if is Holloszy is the one who discovered that when people do endurance exercise that their muscles accumulate more mitochondria.

32:24: Ken asks about the role of PGC-1a.

38:43: Ken comments that we know most sports require a combination of strength and endurance for optimal performance, bringing up the topic of concurrent training.

48:02: Ken asks if we know which form of AMPK is activated by things such as Metformin or the ketogenic diet.

49:24: Dawn comments that Keith eventually accepted a position at Michigan where he worked with Bob Denis, who figured out how to engineer muscles as well as ligaments. She asks Keith to share some things about the research they did together.

50:41: Dawn mentions that after Michigan, Keith accepted a position at the University of Dundee in Scotland, where he worked for 5 years. Dawn asks what that experience was like.

55:20: Ken mentions that from looking at the literature, it seems as though Keith discovered that the non-contractile portion of the muscle plays a key role in the transfer of force, and that this is nearly as important as the size of the muscle fiber itself. He asks Keith to elaborate on this finding.

58:45: Ken asks if Keith’s work has elucidated a potential countermeasure to the loss of dystrophin, for both the aging population and cancer patients. Keith then talks about research at the University of California, San Diego, that has shown the beneficial effects epicatechin, a flavanol in dark chocolate.

1:00:37: Ken mentions that some athletes are using Transdermal Epicatechin, and asks about the efficacy of such practice.

1:01:54: Interview ends.