WASHINGTON (August 04, 2020) – The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) announced the twelve recipients of the 2020 Veterinary Student Research Fellowships (FFAR Vet Fellows) in partnership with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. This fellowship creates opportunities for veterinary students to pursue research on global food security and sustainable animal production.
“Veterinary science is essential for understanding and mitigating a host of serious global health challenges, including the coronavirus – the latest example of pathogens that move between humans and animals,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “Pests and diseases are constantly changing to survive in new environments. We must urgently equip the next generation of veterinary scientists to ensure the veterinary community has the expertise to address future pandemic pests and diseases.”
Up to 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning a pathogen can spread from animals to humans. Both coronaviruses and influenza viruses can be zoonotic and can be found in agricultural animals such as poultry and pigs. Research on food-animal production and veterinary medicine can reduce the threat of zoonotic pathogens. Yet, veterinary students have limited opportunities to research zoonotic diseases in agriculture.
Through the Vet Fellows program, FFAR is investing in future veterinarians and creating opportunities to provide them relevant expertise. Due to the urgent nature of this research, the 2020 Vet Fellows were not required to provide matching funds, allowing them to focus exclusively on their research.
The FFAR Vet Fellows program supports student research on agricultural productivity, public health and environmental sustainability. FFAR and AAVMC adjusted the parameters of the fellowship this year to fund additional fellowships that focus on zoonotic or pandemic research. The three-month fellowship culminates with student presentations at the annual National Veterinary Scholars Symposium in early August.
The 2020 FFAR Vet Fellows include:
Alec Lucas, Mississippi State University
As policies and regulations on antimicrobial use become more restrictive, the cattle industry – including producers, veterinarians and industry representatives – must together prepare to implement these policies and regulations. Lucas is using stock and flow value-chain models to understand how cattle markets would adapt to various antimicrobial-use policies.
Allie Andrews, University of Tennessee
Bovine anaplasmosis, an infectious blood disease in cattle usually spread by ticks, causes severe anemia and significant economic losses for producers; however, no recent prevalence estimates exist, making it impossible to account for exact production losses. Andrews is tracking the prevalence of bovine anaplasmosis in Tennessee beef cattle herds, which helps producers understand the economic impacts of the disease and adopt better preventative and control measures.
Cassandra Barber, Mississippi State University
Not only are zoonotic diseases a significant threat to humans, but in some cases these microorganisms can also be resistant to antimicrobials. Alternative treatments for antimicrobial-resistant zoonotic microorganisms are needed to protect human and animal health. Increased expression of naturally occurring antimicrobial proteins (AMP) by an animal’s cells could be a novel strategy for treating some infections. Barber is using bovine coronavirus and Pasteurella bacteria as models for viral and bacterial zoonotic pathogens to investigate whether AMPs may be effective in combating infectious agents in humans and animals.
Dayna Kinkade, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Researchers hypothesize that the influenza A viruses (IAV), also known as the flu, can be transmitted between species, including between humans and pigs. Kinkade is examining the transmission of influenza A subtype H3N2 virus, a strain of the flu, between humans and pigs from 2014 to 2019. These genetic-analysis tools can determine which strains of the virus are spreading between species and if this transmission is occurring in any specific pattern, information necessary to better monitor the movement and evolution of the influenza virus.
Eddy Cruz, University of Wisconsin
The intestinal pathogen Salmonella enterica causes disease in many animal species, including humans, but it is unclear how the gut environment primes Salmonella for transmission. The gut microbiota of mammals produces a diversity of sulfur-containing metabolites, some of which enhance Salmonella infection, survival or severity. Cruz is assessing the effect of these sulfur metabolites on Salmonella gut colonization and environmental survival to provide key targets for anti-Salmonella strategies based on sulfur metabolites.
Faazal Rehman, University of Pennsylvania
Swine health and illness significantly impacts productivity and economic losses worldwide. Rehman is identifying a swine health signature in Pennsylvania swine farms by studying the gut, lung and skin microbiomes, as well as characterizing white blood cell populations of healthy and sick animals. Identifying a swine health signature will improve global animal health and productivity.
Kenzie Schwartz, University of Georgia
The east Asian longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis) carries several pathogens that are harmful to cattle. Schwartz is determining the diversity and abundance of the east Asian longhorned tick and other ticks in urban and forested parks in Athens, Georgia. Schwartz is also examining whether species abundance or diversity are related to any spatial associations or habitat connectivity.
Lauren Herd, Kansas State University
Decades of use in the cattle industry may have impacted the efficacy of the only FDA-approved drug, chlortetracycline (CTC), to control bovine anaplasmosis, Anaplasma marginale. Bovine anaplasmosis is an infectious blood disease in cattle that causes severe anemia and economic losses for producers. To evaluate the efficacy of CTC, Herd is infecting cattle with a strain of A. marginale, treating some cattle with CTC, and monitoring for signs of the disease to better understand antimicrobial resistance.
Maia Laabs, University of California, Davis
Toxoplasma gondii is widespread parasite that causes reproductive challenges in small ruminants. Laabs is investigating the prevalence of T. gondii in US goat herds and identifying risk factors associated with T. gondii-positive herds. Her research is informing management strategies and future preventive measures.
Matt Boulanger, University of Pennsylvania
Lameness is a major detriment to sow productivity and welfare; however, lameness scoring can be subjective and needs to be done manually. Boulanger’s research is using infrared cameras to automatically evaluate lameness in swine. He is using a novel algorithm, as well as machine learning, to process the images and comparing the predictions to standard visual assessment tools.
Sarah Botkin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Rotavirus is a small intestinal disease that is infecting piglets in increasing frequency in commercial swine breeding herds. Conventional control methods of vaccination and high-pressure washing with disinfectants have been ineffective. Botkin is evaluating the effectiveness of conventional and alternative cleaning methods to reduce the incidence of diarrhea in neonatal pigs
Xinyi Xu, University of Georgia
As environmental change brings wild and domestic animals in increasingly close contact, disease transmission between wildlife and livestock is an emerging threat to food production. Xiu is studying critical factors related to how the virus interacts with the host to predict viral spillover between wildlife and livestock.
Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today's food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.