AgBioResearch Scientists Receive Nearly $1.5 Million for Animal Health and Production Research

MAES scientists will use federal grants totaling nearly $1.5 million to improve animal health and growth.

March 15, 2010

MAES scientists will use federal grants totaling nearly $1.5 million to improve animal health and growth.

Awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the grants are part of a $24 million funding project aimed at research on animal health, reproduction, breeding, genetics and nutrition.

MAES animal science researchers George Smith and Juan Steibel, and MSU computer science and engineering/microbiology and molecular genetics assistant professor C. Titus Brown received $349,782, $443,491 and $689,921, respectively from NIFA to support their research efforts.

Smith and his team will study the role of the CART protein in animal reproduction and regulation of growth, as well as its effects on estrogen production by ovarian follicles during the reproductive cycle of dairy cows.

"It is important for us to understand how ovarian follicles grow and produce hormones critical for fertility," Smith said. "Our research also suggests that understanding CART action could be critical to reducing the low but increasing incidence of twinning in dairy cows, which has a significant negative impact on profitability."

Steibel and his team will make use of genomics technology to analyze pig DNA, which could allow a hog breeder to predict the future performance of a pig from birth.

"Genotyping every pig at birth for more than 60,000 markers [the number of genetic markers in a single pig genome] is not economically feasible," Steibel said. "Our goal is to study the genomic variation present in the four main pig breeds used in America and then select a minimal set of markers that effectively spans the genomic variation in each breed. This will allow us to genotype future generations at a fraction of the cost of genotyping all of the markers, while still achieving the necessary accuracy."

Brown and his team are developing software that can analyze gene sequencing technology to address disease in agricultural animals. They will build tools so researchers can take full advantage of this flood of sequencing data.

"Recent advances in technology are yielding immense amounts of sequence data that can be used to address animal disease and variation questions," said Brown, who also is the director of the MSU Laboratory of Genomics, Evolution and Development. "However, agricultural researchers do not yet possess the computational tools to make use of this data. Our proposed software will quickly open up many new avenues for agricultural genomics."

"Earning these highly competitive grants gives MSU faculty members an opportunity to do the far-reaching research that looks around the curve at what?s coming, what might be a problem five or 10 years from now," said College of Agriculture and Natural Resources dean Jeff Armstrong. "Federal support for fundamental research in farm animals is critical to the development of new technologies to increase efficiency and sustainability of the dairy and other livestock industries in Michigan and beyond."

"With the support from these federal funds, I am certain that these collaborative efforts -- animal science researchers working alongside our computer science and engineering team -- will yield innovative technological advances that will greatly benefit the agricultural industry," said Satish Udpa, dean of the College of Engineering.

MSU is among more than 30 universities receiving a share of the funding.

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