FFAR and AAVMC Announce 2020 Vet Fellows

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.

Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

Overcoming Water Scarcity

Overcoming Water Scarcity


Agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Overcoming Water Scarcity Challenge Area addressed water use efficiency in agriculture by developing water conservation and reuse technologies, improving crop and livestock breeds, creating improved agronomic practices, increasing the social and economic tractability of conservation practices and enhancing the efficacy of Extension services.

FFAR’s Sustainable Water Management Challenge Area builds on earlier work to increase water availability and water efficiency for agricultural use, reduces agricultural water pollution and develops water reuse technologies.

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms


FFAR’s 2016-2018 Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge Area increased soil health by building knowledge, fueling innovation, and enabling adoption of existing or new innovative practices that improve soil health.

The Soil Health Challenge Area advances existing research and identifies linkages between farm productivity and soil health, while also addressing barriers to the adoption of soil health practices.

Protein Challenge

Protein Challenge


FFAR’s 2016-2018 Protein Challenge Area sought to improve the environmental, economic and social sustainability of diverse proteins.

The Advance Animal Systems challenge area supports sustainable animal production through environmentally sound productions practices and advancement in animal health and welfare. Additionally, the Next Generation Crops Challenge Area develops non-traditional crops, including plant-based proteins, and creates new economic opportunities for conventional crops to increase future crop diversity and farm profitability.

Food Waste and Loss

Food Waste and Loss


About 40 percent of food in the US, or $161 billion each year, is lost or wasted. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Food and Waste Loss Challenge Area addressed the social, economic and environmental impacts from food waste and loss through research that developed of novel uses for agricultural waste, improved storage and distribution, supported tracking and monitoring, minimized spoilage through pre- and post-harvest innovations and changed behaviors to reduce food waste

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area addresses food waste and loss and supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.

Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability


Supporting innovation is necessary for sustainable results. Over the last 50 years, farmers have tripled global food production thanks to agricultural innovations. Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability was a 2016-2018 Challenge Area that focused on understanding the barriers and processes that prevented the adoption of technology and research results into sustainable practices.

Urban Food Systems

Urban Food Systems


The 2016-2018 Urban Food Systems Challenge Area addressed feeding urban populations through urban and peri-urban agriculture and augmenting the capabilities of our current food system.

The Urban Food Systems Challenge Area continues this work and enhances our ability to feed urban populations.

Making My Plate Your Plate


FFAR’s 2016-2018 Making My Plate Your Plate Challenge Area focused on helping Americans meet the USDA 2015 Dietary Guideline recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, including research to both produce and provide access to nutritious fruits and vegetables.

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.