UD students, professors make global connections in Brazil

October 2, 2013 under CANR News

UD students travel to UFLAFour University of Delaware students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) spent time this summer interning in Brazil at the University of Lavras (UFLA), immersing themselves in the Brazilian culture and taking part in experiential learning with the hope of establishing connections for future collaborations with the institution.

The students were able to study in Brazil thanks to funds provided by a three-year, $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and International Science and Education program awarded to CANR and the College of Arts and Sciences in 2011.

The students who went on the trip were Jacqueline Hoban, a junior studying wildlife conservation and entomology, and recent UD graduates Melanie Allen, who studied wildlife conservation, Sara Laskowski, ecology, and Sarah Thorne, animal science.

Laskowski said that in addition to learning about the research underway at UFLA and networking to globalize UD, the students were fully immersed in the culture as they all lived with Brazilian doctoral or undergraduate students and tried their best to speak Portuguese.

Laskowski, who stayed in Brazil for two months, said that her favorite part of the experience was “the people I met. I made really great friends who I hope to stay in contact with for a long time. I hope to go back and I’m looking into possibly getting a master’s degree in the Amazon region. I love it.”

She also said that she enjoyed sitting in on various classes, talking with professors, seeing new species of birds and insects, and learning about new plants on a day-to-day basis.

Laskowski said that traveling and studying abroad “gives you a new perspective on life. UD has a lot of great opportunities through the study abroad program, which gives students an opportunity to step outside of their roles and really see how other people live.”

Hoban explained that the interns had worked for a year before heading to Brazil to help build longstanding academic programs and research partnerships with UFLA that will enhance the international nature of curricula in areas of common interest, such as food security, bioenergy, animal agriculture and biodiversity.

“Most of my classes were plant based and I worked with plant pathologists and learned a lot about coffee, because that’s their big crop,” Hoban said. She also studied how her Brazilian colleagues “deal with different pathogens and how we would deal with any pathogens that would come from Brazil, or have come from Brazil, to the United States.”

Hoban said that she enjoyed traveling to Rio de Janeiro and exploring UFLA’s new coffee science department.

Having been on study abroad trips to Cambodia and Vietnam before heading to Brazil, Hoban explained that traveling and studying abroad “makes you realize how big the world really is and how different it is. When you read about another country, you’re not really getting a full view of their perspective. Seeing how Brazilians feel about Brazil, how Brazilians feels about the United States, it broadens your mind.”

Professorial experience

The students were also supervised by a faculty team that included Sue Barton, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a Cooperative Extension specialist; Carl Schmidt, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and associate professor of biological sciences; Greg Shriver, associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology; and Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor in Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Barton traveled to Brazil for five days, and explained that she went for a number of reasons, among them to touch base with the UD students and provide them with the opportunity to do things like travel to Inhotim, a 5,000-acre botanic garden and contemporary art museum located two hours from the city Belo Horizonte.

As a professor who teaches plants and human culture, Barton also spent time with an ornamental horticulture professor from UFLA, driving around and looking at the typical city landscape in Brazil. Most of the plots in the city had very little room to landscape or walls that hid their interiors for security purposes, and because of this, people were not able to landscape the area in front of their homes. Barton was able to see a gated community, however, that eliminated the security issue with the gate at the entrance and that looked relatively similar to a high end American urban or suburban development.

Barton was also able to meet with forestry officials who showed her a number of urban forestry projects. “They’re very advanced in the way they’re using computers — like tablets — to collect data and they’re trying to completely catalogue all the trees in Belo Horizonte, which is a city about two hours away from Lavras,” said Barton.

She explained that the officials are gathering data on each tree and the possible problems that trees face in an urban environment — such as wires near the trees — and that they are hoping “to get a handle on the full range of the trees in the city and then continue to track that over time.”

Schmidt went to Brazil to support the students and to conduct research as part of a $4.7 million National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) climate change grant for a project titled “Adapting Chicken Production to Climate Change Through Breeding.” The project looks at identifying genes that help chickens survive on different diets, in different climates and facing different disease challenges.

Having already sampled birds in Uganda, Schmidt said that it was very beneficial to be able to get genetic samples from birds in Brazil, as well.

“I’m very interested in pursuing worldwide genetic diversity in chickens because they’re in all sorts of different environments — they’re pretty much anywhere you find people,” said Schmidt.

Aiding Schmidt in his research work were Janet DeMena, a research associate in CANR, and Allison Rogers, a master’s degree student in CANR.

When it came time to head to campus and help the students, Schmidt quickly realized that the students were very self-motivated. He was, however, more than happy to accompany them on their trip to Rio de Janeiro.

“The people at UFLA were great and we were working pretty hard the whole time we were there, but I have to admit, it was nice to have a break in Rio,” said Schmidt.

Having been to UFLA during spring break, Schmidt had already set up connections with faculty at the institution in anticipation of this trip, and he will now have two Brazilian graduate students from the university travel to UD to spend a year here starting this month.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD grad student sets up collaborative research with Brazil’s UFLA

May 2, 2013 under CANR News

During spring break, University of Delaware graduate student Allison Rogers spent a week at Brazil’s University Federal de Lavras (UFLA) to secure future collaborations for research on broiler chickens and to assist Carl Schmidt, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, in his research on the global genomic diversity of chickens.

A self-professed “bird lady” who was named a Plastino Scholar in 2011 and traveled the country discussing the importation and smuggling of parrots into the United States, Rogers was able to set up a collaboration with researchers at UFLA that will see her return to the University in June. Her research deals with studying “the effect of alternative lighting technologies such as LED and cold cathode fluorescent (CCFL) light bulbs on the growth and performance of broiler chickens.”

Allison Rogers traveled to Brazil's UFLA campusRogers, a master’s degree student studying animal science in the laboratory group of Eric Benson, associate professor of animal and food sciences, and Robert Alphin, instructor in the department and manager of the Allen Laboratory, explained that incandescent light bulbs traditionally have been used in chicken houses but now growers are moving toward higher efficiency light bulbs and they want to be able to determine whether or not these new lighting technologies have any effect on the growth of their birds, which would impact them economically.

“Our interest in Brazil, particularly in the region that we’re visiting, is that they’re able to raise their birds in completely open houses,” said Rogers, explaining that the chickens are “enclosed within a house but they have enormous windows that are completely open — they have natural ventilation and natural lighting. That is so different from what we have, which is completely enclosed, artificial ventilation and artificial lighting. I’ll be collecting blood samples upon my return, to compare relative stress levels between birds raised under natural light versus birds raised under artificial light.”

Schmidt added that when Rogers goes back in June, her collaborators at UFLA will have “set up a flock for her. They will grow the chickens for five weeks and in June she will begin sampling the birds to evaluate in a fairly straightforward way their immune function and stress levels, and to be able to compare that with the data she’s collected on her own flocks here in Delaware.”

As for this most recent trip, Rogers was assisting Schmidt with his research, helping to collect genetic samples from backyard chickens that will help aid his studies on the genomics of the common chicken and how they respond to different environments — such as very hot and high altitude environments — with the hope that the genetic information will allow livestock breeders in the United States to improve their flocks.

“We took samples using a piece of paper that has been treated so that you can take one drop of blood from an animal and put it on this piece of paper and it will stabilize the sample and destroy any  viruses or bacteria. It allows you to keep that stabilized sample and then analyze it later on,” Rogers explained.

As one who is enthralled with exotic species of birds, Rogers said that just because she was studying chickens in Brazil didn’t mean that she was not able to see exotic species — sometimes getting to do so without even leaving the UFLA campus. “I got made fun of by Dr. Schmidt because at one point we were on the campus and a toucan flew over head and I was just like, ‘Toucan!’” said Rogers. “It was so exciting to see these species that you would never see in the United States and the people in Brazil are just as excited about them as we are, which is really wonderful. They say they’re really proud that the university has kept enough foliage and enough resources for these birds to still be able to live in this quasi-urban setting. That was really important to them.”

Rogers added that she saw similarities between UFLA and UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, making for a seamless collaborative environment. “UFLA is an agriculturally and historically based university and so we felt very at home when we arrived. There are very strong programs there for horses as well as cattle and so we really just kind of felt at home. Everyone was very welcoming. The students that helped us were just wonderful and so caring.”

About the partnership between UD and UFLA

In 2011, CANR and the College of Arts and Sciences received a $150,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and International Science and Education program (USDA-NIFA-ISE) to continue on a three-year partnership with UFLA.

The hope of this partnership is to establish both long-standing academic programs and research partnerships, with both institutions helping each other in those areas in which their research overlaps.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD’s Schmidt studies heat stress, disease resistance in African chickens

February 11, 2013 under CANR News

Last fall, the University of Delaware’s Carl Schmidt took a trip to Uganda with a team of researchers from Iowa State University and North Carolina State University to get genetic samples from African chickens. The goal was to compare and contrast their genes to one another, and also to American broiler chickens, to gauge how the two species’ genetic makeup helps them cope with heat stress, as well as susceptibility and resistance to different diseases.

The trip was part of a five-year, $4.7 million National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) climate change grant for a project titled “Adapting Chicken Production to Climate Change Through Breeding.”

UD Professor Carl Schmidt studies chickens in AfricaSchmidt explained that the objective of the trip was “to try to identify genes that may be helping these birds survive on different diets, in a different climate, and facing different disease challenges.”

Schmidt, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), said that the group gathered more than 100 samples of African chicken DNA from “back yard flocks” of chickens from three cities from different regions of the country: Buwama, Wobulenzi and Kamuli.

Aiding the group in the research being done in Uganda was the organization Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns (VEDCO), which Schmidt called invaluable as it supplied the researchers with lodging during their time in Kamuli. The group also collaborated with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which gave them access to samples ILRI had collected from chickens in Kenya.

Now that the researchers have the samples from Africa, researchers at North Carolina State are processing the DNA. Once the DNA is processed, Schmidt will work at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute to handle the sequencing of the genome and the bioinformatics.

Chicken differences

Schmidt said one of the main variances that might have an impact on the genetic differences between the American chickens raised in a production facility and the African chickens, which roam, is diet. The African chickens will eat anything that is available to them, including bugs, whereas the American chickens in production facilities are fed a largely corn-based meal. Schmidt said that he is interested to see “what kind of impact that has had on the genes that are involved in actually getting nutrients out of insects.”

Another difference between the two birds is that whereas American chickens raised in production facilities are relatively sheltered from the elements and from disease, African chickens are pretty much on their own. Schmidt explained that the African chickens are “exposed to the environment — they usually have a small building that they can go into, sometimes they even just go into the homes, but for the most part, they have to fend for themselves.”

Schmidt added that the African chickens also have to deal with predators, theft and “then of course they are also exposed to more disease agents than certainly the birds that are in production facilities here. And the thought is that they’ve been in essence selected to deal with these challenges.”

The group didn’t only get samples from traditional African chickens, however, as Schmidt explained that they also ran into a line of chickens imported from India and they wanted to examine the genome of those chickens, as well.

When it comes to size, Schmidt explained that African chickens are smaller than the American broiler chickens one would find in a production facility or at a grocery store. One reason for this is that whereas the production facility chicken is raised to be eaten, the African chicken is kept alive so it can continuously provide eggs as a food source.

Now that the group has collected samples from American and African chickens, Schmidt is hopeful that he will be able to head to Brazil in the summer — as part of a joint agreement between CANR and the University Federal de Lavras — to collect samples of chicken DNA from South America.

“What we’d like to do is get a couple of different geographic locations,” said Schmidt. “And the interesting thing to me is, Uganda kind of straddles the equator and Brazil isn’t quite straddling the equator but it’s a little more similar to Uganda than it is to the United States, so you can kind of see if there are any similarities.”

Schmidt also said that once he gets samples from Brazil, he would be interested in collecting samples from other locations, as well. “One of the things I’d love to do is go to Central America.”

Researchers and students who went on the trip and are involved in the grant from Iowa State include Max Rothschild, the Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and director of the Center for Integrated Animal Genomics, and Angelica Bjorkquist and Damarius Fleming, both graduate students.

Researchers and students who went on the trip and are involved in the grant from North Carolina State include Chris Ashwell, associate professor of poultry genomics, nutrition, immunology and physiology, and Alex Zavelo, a graduate student.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo provided by Carl Schmidt

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University of Delaware holds inaugural One World, One Health symposium

August 23, 2012 under CANR News

The University of Delaware held its inaugural One World, One Health animal, human and environmental health symposium, titled “Global Thinking for the Greater Good: Interdisciplinary Health Discourse and Research,” in the Townsend Hall Commons on Wednesday, Aug. 22.

The event was sponsored by the UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), the College of Health Sciences (CHS) and the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS).

The day started off with two concurrent morning sessions running from 9-11:30 a.m. The first, titled “Plugging In,” dealt with regional interdisciplinary health efforts and outlined ways in which University departments and individual researchers can “plug in” to ongoing and future projects.

Speakers included Karl Steiner, senior provost of research development for the Research Office; Kathy Matt, dean of the College of Health Sciences; and Bob MacDonald, coordinator for partnerships and grants at USDA-ARS.

Steiner spoke about the importance of having multiple principal investigators on research projects, noting that National Science Foundation (NSF) funding for multi-principal investigator projects has gone up 29 percent in recent years, while funding for single principal investigator projects has gone up only 7 percent. He noted that the NSF mirrors a national trend toward awarding multiple-principal investigator projects.

Steiner said that pilot funding is available for researchers through the University and statewide, with programs such as the Delaware Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), supported by NSF, and the Delaware IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), supported by the National Institutes of Health.

He said that with more than 60 academic departments and schools and numerous institutes spread across the University, there is a need for collaboration between researchers.

Steiner also stressed that in the jungle of securing competitive grants, it is important for researchers to “use all the help you can get” and to “work with colleagues to do something innovative, because if you’re doing the same thing that somebody else is doing,” you won’t succeed.

Interdisciplinary work

Matt discussed the interdisciplinary opportunities available at UD specifically through the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance (DHSA) and the future opportunities that will be available at the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus. Matt said it is important to not limit partnerships but to expand them, and spoke to researchers about the importance of pilot funding to help show initial results with their work.

“The challenge is when you have a new idea and you have to partner with other people, you don’t have a track record,” said Matt. “That’s why in every situation I’ve been in, seed funds, angel funds — these pilot funds — are greatly important so you can get together, get the data, get your publications, get an abstract, get your presentations and you can show that, ‘This isn’t fictitious, I didn’t just write this on the proposal, we’re already working together and we have some data and we know that we can do this.’”

Matt also talked about successful collaboration projects at CHS, such as the “babies driving robots” program that is a collaboration between the Department of Physical Therapy and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, as well as the possibility for future collaborations between UD departments and the community in general as afforded by the new STAR Campus.

Matt said it is hoped the campus will demonstrate “healthy living by design,” and said that will come about through a cooperative effort with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

In the other concurrent morning session, “From Here to There: UD Graduate Student Resources and Career Planning,” speakers presented information on UD resources available to graduate students, career planning and the transition from graduate school to the workforce.

Next came lunch, which gave participants a chance to network with fellow researchers and look at research presentations on display.

Tips for researchers

From 1-3 p.m., there was a panel discussion titled “From Good to Grant,” which explored real world experiences and the logistics of developing and administering interdisciplinary research projects and grants.

The session was moderated by Leigh Botner, research development director for the Research Office, and panelists included:

  • Kali Kniel, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences;
  • Manan Sharma, research microbiologist in the Environmental, Microbial, and Food Safety Laboratory (USDA ARS);
  • Steven Stanhope, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology and lead scientist in the Bridging Advanced Development for Exceptional Rehabilitation (BADER) Consortium (CHS);
  • Carl Schmidt, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences; and
  • Dan Flynn, associate dean of research (CHS).

Kniel said that it is important to know one’s personal strengths when working in a collaborative setting and that “patience is very important when dealing with different personalities.”

Schmidt stressed that talking to fellow researchers and going to meetings is very important, and said research should aim to have a broad impact. He also noted that it is important to establish a laboratory and get papers published as well as find people in the research field who complement you.

“My area of expertise is sequencing and bioinformatics and I knew that we had to use some quantitative genetics in my research and so I actively pursued one of the leading quantitative geneticists at Iowa State as part of this project,” said Schmidt, referencing a $4.7 million research grant he received through the Climate Change Initiative of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to study heat stress in poultry.

Flynn spoke about programmatic grants, saying that the three most important aspects of securing a programmatic grant are to have:

• A grant leader who has very strong credentials;

• A compelling vision, something that addresses an important issue that scientists and the people of the society are looking at and talking about, allowing regional assets to guide the growth of the research program, and;

• Strong credentials among the faculty who participate on the program and high quality of their ideas.

“That’s what’s going to drive this and get that grant funded,” he said.

Flynn also said that it is important to remember that as the leader of a research group, you need to help to advance the careers of everybody on that team. “At the end of the day, the real lasting legacy of leadership is the careers of the people that you advanced behind you and then that’s a culture of leadership that you pass on.”

The symposium closed with a poster session and refreshments from 3-5 p.m., with tours of the CANR farm and gardens also available at that time.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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UD’s Schmidt studies genome of crocodile family in evolution research

June 14, 2012 under CANR News

University of Delaware scientist Carl Schmidt is working to identify genes in crocodiles, alligators and gharials as he searches for links between the creatures that could give clues as to how they evolved over the years in relation to one another.

Schmidt’s effort is part of a National Science Foundation-funded project being conducted by a team of researchers assembled by David Ray, an evolutionary biologist at Mississippi State University.

Schmidt, a professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), explained that his role in the study is to receive DNA sequences from researchers who collect samples from the three species.

Instead of trekking through the wetlands tracking down alligators, crocodiles and gharials — a crocodilian native to the Indian subcontinent — Schmidt is conducting all of his research on dry land in the safe confines of CANR’s Charles C. Allen Laboratory, with much of the DNA sequencing being done at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI). “They don’t let me chase the crocodiles,” he joked.

Along with Colin Kern, a UD doctoral student in the College of Engineering, Schmidt receives the DNA sequences and then uses different informatics approaches to identify the genes.

By identifying the genes that are commonly found in the DNA of the three creatures, Schmidt said that the researchers are able to predict where the genomic changes may have taken place.

This is particularly important when it comes to the gharial, which is an endangered species whose total world wide population numbers in the hundreds. “One of the things that I think is still a little unclear is the relationship of the gharials to the other crocodilians,” said Schmidt. “So one of the things we’re trying to tease out is the actual relationship between the gharials and the crocodiles.”

Because the gharial is so scarce, researchers have only been able to collect blood samples from the creature. In the case of the other two species, scientists have a variety of tissue samples, which allows for a broader array of DNA to be studied.

Despite the lack of tissue samples, the researchers are still confident that they will be able to discover the genomic changes, which in turn could lead to better conservation efforts to help the gharials avoid extinction.

Birds as Relatives

Schmidt’s work will eventually dovetail with a study being headed by Erich Jarvis, associate professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, and Mississippi State’s Ray that focuses on the genetic evolution of the closest living relative of the crocodilian family — birds.

Of the relationship between birds and crocodiles, Schmidt said, “It goes back to evolution in terms of crocodiles appearing to be the closest existing relatives of the birds, and the birds being modern dinosaurs, basically.”

Schmidt said that he is interested to see what genes are shared between birds and crocodiles, and which ones are unique to each creature — such as feathers for the birds — and he is hoping that they will be able to tie the results from the two studies together.

“A lot of it relates to how evolution has affected these two different lines of animals that share a fairly recent common ancestor,” Schmidt said, adding, “One of the things that I’m curious to find out is what the genome of that common ancestor looked like.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Animal Science Club excels in quiz bowl at NESA Competition

March 23, 2012 under CANR News

The University of Delaware Animal Science Club had a strong showing in the quiz bowl portion of the 2012 Northeast Student Affiliate (NESA) competition hosted by the University of Maine on Saturday, Feb. 18.

The quiz bowl took place in a bracket system, with the UD teams competing against 49 other teams from 10 universities, which this year included schools such as Penn State University, Rutgers University and the University of Maryland.

The eight students representing UD were split up into two teams of four, UD teams A and B. Team B placed 10th overall, earning itself a blue ribbon handed out at the competition’s awards banquet.

Laura Nemec, laboratory coordinator in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and the club adviser who went with the group to the competition, said that the teams from UD “were a great mix of freshman through seniors and many had little to no experience with NESA previously.”

Explaining that UD team B missed out on advancing in the quiz bowl by only one point, Nemec said that the Animal Science Club members “did a fantastic job this year and are already looking for more new members and practicing questions for next year at Rutgers. I could not be more proud of the NESA teams and Animal Science Club.”

The rounds were made up of 20 questions each, with the teams getting buzzers to ring in with the correct answers. Questions consisted of general agricultural questions, but also involved some bio-anatomy, biology and some trivia about the host school sprinkled into the competition, as well.

To prepare for the quiz bowl, Jennifer West, a senior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and president of the Animal Science Club, explained that the students used questions from the previous year’s competition and began to study them over Winter Session. The questions also helped pass the time as they prepped on their 11-hour car ride to Maine. Another way that they prepared was having UD professors come in and “speak with us and give kind of quick mini-lectures about what they teach.”

These lectures covered topics such as anatomy, genetics and nutrition. Faculty who spoke to the club included Carissa Wickens, assistant professor of animal and food sciences, Robert Dyer, associate professor of animal and food sciences, Carl Schmidt, associate professor of animal and food sciences, and Tanya Gressley, assistant professor of animal and food sciences.

Quiz bowl was only a portion of the NESA competition, which also included a livestock judging competition and a paper presentation.

Ariana Shakory, a sophomore in CANR, explained that the club had help in preparing for the livestock judging portion of the competition. Club members visited the University of Delaware dairy farm and learned and practiced dairy cattle judging with Richard Morris, dairy manager at the UD farm, which Shakory called “a good experience and good practice.”

For the paper presentations, each team selected one team member to give a presentation. The two members from UD were West and Jessica Applebaum, a junior in CANR. West’s paper focused on “Antibiotic Resistance and the Transmission from Livestock to Human Consumption,” while Applebaum’s dealt with “Mastitis in Dairy Cattle,” an inflammation of the udders.

While the team is already looking forward to next year’s event at Rutgers, they also have their eye on eventually hosting the event at UD because, as West explained, “with the shorter travel distance it would cost less and we could take more than two teams. We would really love to bring NESA back to UD — it would be really fun to do all the behind the scenes planning.”

According to Sara Hobson, a CANR senior and vice president of the Animal Science Club who chaired this year’s NESA planning committee, the last time UD hosted the event was 1996.

About the Animal Science Club

For anyone interested in joining the Animal Science Club, it meets every Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Room 107 of Sharp Laboratory.  While the majority in the club are Animal Science majors, that is not a pre-requisite to join as the club accepts students from all majors.

The club prides itself on providing a great opportunity for hands-on experience and involvement in the community. The club members volunteer at local farms and animal shelters, and they regularly have guest speakers from places like Carousel Farms come in to talk with the group about a variety of experiences.

Applebaum explained that she got involved with the club because, “I really want to go to vet school and I feel like the hands on experience would really help me and they bring in speakers from different places, like vet schools and animal organizations, and you also get to meet a lot of people on campus.”

The club’s advisers are Laura Nemec and Lesa Griffiths, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

For more information on the Animal Science Club, visit their website or e-mail Jennifer West or Nina Lee, junior in CANR and secretary of the Animal Science Club.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD’s Schmidt takes look back to study heat stress in poultry

August 12, 2011 under CANR News

To help the chickens of the future, Carl Schmidt is looking to the chickens of the past. Schmidt, associate professor of animal and food sciences and biological sciences at the University of Delaware, has been awarded a grant to study heat stress on chickens — both those that would have been around in the grocery stores of the 1950s and those that are found in supermarkets today.

Totaling $4.7 million, the five-year grant is funded through the Climate Change Initiative of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA).

Schmidt said of the research, “The basic thought is that with climate change, it’s not so much the fact that the average temperature is going to go up a couple of degrees; it’s more the anticipation that there will be more heat waves, they will be hotter and they will last longer. And that is a problem for poultry production.”

By studying poultry from the 1950s, or “heritage” chickens, Schmidt is trying to see if any specific alleles — or individual gene variances — have been bred out of modern chickens that might make them less resistant to heat stress.

“Our hope is to identify particular alleles, variances in the population of genes, that help them survive heat stress. The thought is that if we can identify these alleles, industry could attempt to breed the alleles into their production lines,” he said.

The heritage chickens used by the University of Delaware in the study have been provided by the University of Illinois. In 1956, Illinois scientists set aside a male and female line of chickens and stopped selecting them for improved meat production. Those lines have been maintained, unselected, throughout the years, allowing researchers to study the chickens much as they would have been found in the 1950s.

One of the differences between the two types of chickens is that whereas the modern chicken goes to market in six weeks, the heritage bird would not go to market for 16 weeks. The modern chicken is also a lot larger than the heritage chicken.

Schmidt said, “Given the focus of this, we’re very curious, and we’ve really just started to ask the question: Do these birds response differently to heat stress?”

Explaining his research, Schmidt said, “We heat stress the birds and then we have a controlled population that we don’t heat stress. We then look at response and at gene expression patterns. We’re just doing our first trial but the heritage birds actually are using their drinker — the implement from which they get water — to get wet, whereas the modern chicken hasn’t used that yet.”

Two indicators that will help determine the two breeds’ levels of heat stress will be survival rate and production traits. “In many ways, since these are meat birds, breast muscle yield would be the thing really relevant to that,” Schmidt said. “The anticipation would be that by having to deal with the heat stress, perhaps diverting energy into dumping heat or whatever, they don’t have the final production yields of the control birds.”

Schmidt also said that he is personally interested to see how human selection and evolution has impacted the various traits of the chicken. “How did selection pull out alleles of genes that for example made the breast muscle like three times bigger? That’s the kind of thing that really excites me.”

Schmidt is collaborating on the research with Susan Lamont and Max Rothschild from Iowa State University and Chris Ashwell from North Carolina State University.

In addition to the professors from other universities, students from UD will also help conduct the research. Those students involved include Janet de Mena, Schmidt’s associate and a UD graduate; Liang Sun, a doctoral student in animal sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Shurnevia Strickland, a master’s degree student in animal sciences.

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Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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CANR Summer Institute offers glimpse of graduate student life

July 20, 2010 under CANR News

This summer five undergraduate students are conducting research with faculty mentors in the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), experiencing the challenges and rewards of what a graduate education at UD might be like.

As participants in the Summer Institute in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences, hosted by the college, these students are taking part in ongoing research projects guided by personal faculty mentors, networking with current graduate students and other staff within CANR, and interacting with industry professionals.

“The Summer Institute is a team effort by faculty from all departments in our college,” said Tom Sims, deputy dean of the college. “It provides these five outstanding undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct hands-on research and learn about the range of graduate education opportunities available in the agricultural and natural resources sciences.”

Now in its second year, the 10-week program — funded by the college and a Graduate Innovation and Improvement Grant from UD’s Office of Graduate and Professional Education – draws students from under-represented populations who are interested in a graduate degree in agriculture and natural resource sciences.

Maria Pautler, the program’s coordinator, said the Summer Institute was expanded from 4 to 10 weeks after last year’s participants suggested a longer program. The extended program allows students to become more involved with their research projects and present their findings at a campus-wide symposium at the end of the summer, she said.

“This, coupled with opportunities to attend seminars, workshops, and panelist luncheons, is exposing the students to facts and opinions on preparation for, and life in and beyond, graduate school,” Paulter said.

The 2010 CANR Summer Institute participants are:

Kamedra McNeil, of Forestville, Md., is a molecular biology major at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. McNeil is involved in the Winston-Salem Student Government Association, Tri-Beta Biological Honors Society, NSCS Scholars and Pre-Marc Scholars. She is interested in a career in forensic biology. During her time at the Summer Institute, McNeil is studying different genes associated with photoperiod in plants. Her faculty mentor is Randall Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences.

Shurnevia Strickland, of Philadelphia, is a senior applied animal science major at UD. Strickland is secretary and webmaster for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS). She is interested in future research with genetics. At the Summer Institute, Strickland is studying the endothelin 3 gene in the silkie chicken. Her faculty mentor is Carl Schmidt, associate professor of animal and food sciences.

Rochelle Day, of Laurel, Del., is a senior pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major at UD. Day is a member of Puppy Raisers of UD (PROUD) and MANRRS, and is looking toward a career in animal pathology. At the Summer Institute, Day is mapping the genome of the Infectious Laryngotracheitis Virus (ILTV), an upper respiratory disease in birds that causes economic losses for the poultry industry. Her faculty mentor is Calvin Keeler, professor of animal and food sciences.

Rothman Reyes, of Long Island, N.Y., is a sophomore pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major at UD with minors in sexuality and gender studies, and women’s studies. Reyes raises puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and is a member of the LEARN mentor program. He also serves as co-president of the PROUD special interest community. Reyes hopes to practice veterinary medicine at a zoo. At the Summer Institute, Reyes is creating a fosmid library, where he will induce a mutation onto the Infectious Laryngotracheitis Virus (ILTV) to create a vaccine. His faculty mentor is also Calvin Keeler.

Kristina Barr, of Kingstree, SC., is a senior biology major at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. She is a member of the Environmental Awareness Club at her school and plans to pursue a career as an ecologist. Her research at the Summer Institute involves the effects of rose bushes on birds’ ability to forage for food. Her faculty mentors are Jacob Bowman, associate professor, and Greg Shriver, assistant professor, both of entomology and wildlife ecology.

Article by Chelsea Caltuna

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