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$1.9M in USDA Grants Supports Research to Boost Meat and Dairy Production

By Kimbra Cutlip

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded three teams of UMD animal science researchers $650,000 each to help farmers improve production through better selective breeding or disease mitigation. The grants are part of a $13 million USDA program to promote innovative work in cellular, molecular, genomic and whole-animal aspects of nutrition, growth and lactation.

Meatier Birds: Professor Tom Porter will build on his work to identify genetic markers for breeding meatier broiler chickens. It aims to help the poultry industry select chickens for breeding that are genetically advantaged to produce larger chickens. His team’s previous work showed that artificially stimulating the early production of growth hormones in chicken embryos improved chick growth rates after hatching.

Finer Filets: The USDA award will support Associate Professor Mohamed Salem’s project to assess new microbiome-based approaches to improving filet yield and quality in rainbow trout breeding programs. He and colleagues will explore the genetic connection between the gut microbiome and inheritable traits that improve the marketability and total yield of the product, such as increased filet size, pink color and omega-3 content.

Keto for Cows?: Assistant Professor J. Eduardo Rico is researching the role of ketones on metabolism, milk production and disease in dairy cows. Cows normally prioritize sugar in their bodies for milk making, and rely on ketones (alternative fuels produced by the liver) to supply energy for other activities. This state, known as ketosis, has been associated with disease and poor productivity in dairy cows, but also with normal health and milk production, and it even proves beneficial to other mammals’ health. Rico and his collaborator, Dr. Julio Giordano of Cornell University, intend to address this apparent contradiction and gain a clearer understanding of the role of ketones in dairy cow welfare and production.

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