AnSci Connection - April 2018

Notes from the Department Head

It is important to acknowledge achievements, and April has been a time of celebration and recognition in our department. Earlier this month, we held our second annual Animal Science Showcase and honored two Golden Alumni Award winners, Drs. Bruce Behrends and Bradley Johnson, for their outstanding contributions to animal agriculture. It was a wonderful event that showcased our faculty, students and alumni and allowed us to connect with numerous stakeholders. At this event, it was also announced that the newly formed Animal Science Diversity Committee would honor Dr. Sally Noll as the first female faculty member hired and tenured in our Department. Our department will celebrate Dr. Noll by naming the 4th floor Haecker Hall conference room in her honor. (Date and time to be announced in the May issue of the AnSci Connection.) Finally, we are proud to share some of our department’s metrics tied to teaching, research and Extension. In 2017, our department was home to 29 faculty, 49 graduate students, and 421 undergraduate students. Our teaching faculty maintained excellence in our animal science core courses while expanding offerings to include 5 online and 3 study abroad courses. Last year 759 students enrolled in our online courses, many from majors other than Animal Science. Our faculty secured over $3 million in grants, gifts, and royalties; published over 100 abstracts and proceedings; gave 132 invited presentations; and published 77 manuscripts. To disseminate our research results and connect with livestock owners and industry professionals, our Extension faculty published 59 Extension articles and led 58 Extension programs. Thank you to our faculty, students, staff, and stakeholders for their collective efforts in making these impacts!

April has also been a month of extreme weather with the potential to negatively impact livestock health and shorten the growing season. Many of our faculty help maintain websites that offer resources for livestock owners, including beef cattle, dairy cattle, horses, poultry, swine, and farms with small acreage. However, we know spring will eventually arrive and our thoughts turn towards safety around spring farm activities, especially as the timeline to accomplish these activities become condensed. UMASH  (Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center) is a great site for livestock owners with many resources aimed at agriculture health and safety. I wish everyone a safe, productive and warm spring.


Dr. Krishona Martinson

Interim Department Head

Department of Animal Science

Teaching, Research, and Extension Highlights

As printed in the University of Minnesota: Research Brief

While aging is familiar to all of us, exactly how it occurs on a molecular basis has been an area of intense study and interest. We take it for granted that different species age at different rates, yet we do not have a good understanding of why and how. Most mammals have similar numbers of genes, many of which show conserved function, yet there are several orders of magnitude differences in lifespan across mammals. For instance, mice and small animals live shorter lifespans, yet other animals such as bats, naked mole rats, whales, elephants and primates age significantly slower.

What is different in the genomes of these species that allows them to live so long? It is only with the advent of full genomes for hundreds of species that we can begin to compare lifespans between species with differences in their genomes.

Research led by University of Minnesota, Department of Animal Science Assistant Professor Christopher Faulk reveals that regions that control gene expression have evolved to contain more epigenetic switches in about 5 percent of our genes. These switches control the amount of protein made by these genes, rather than the type of protein, and may be able to prevent these protein levels from changing in animals that have longer lifespans.

His study, "The Evolution of CpG Density and Lifespan in Conserved Primate and mammalian Promoters," published in the April issue of Aging, found that 5 percent of our genes have a previously undiscovered link to lifespan. By comparing the epigenetic control regions, called promoters, in 25,000 genes in more than 100 animal genomes, his team detected a signal identifying these genes as under evolutionary selection for long lifespan.

Most gene promoters are enriched in CpG dinucleotides, a letter C next to a letter G in the DNA code, as measured by the density of CpG sites in a region. The trait of CpG density in promoters does not change the gene sequence itself, but controls how much of the gene product is made. However, the number of CpG sites in a specific gene promoter region can differ between species.

“In the majority of the genes we identified, we found a positive correlation between increasing CpG enrichment and lifespan,” Faulk said. “We believe these genes evolved to allow greater control over protein production as an animal ages.”

The study used data from the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the Eukaryotic Promoter Database to download more than 100 mammalian genomes and identify corresponding promoter regions that are shared between humans and these mammals.

“This research is only possible now that hundreds of genomes are in the public domain,” Faulk explained. “This represents tens of billions of dollars in research funding for hundreds of separate groups working on their own goals. We were able to leverage this freely available data in a new way to answer a question about the evolution of the epigenome. And even more, this research uses the differences in species acquired over millions of years to tell us something about how aging and lifespan have evolved. Almost everyone will get old and die and that is generally considered to be a bad health outcome.”

A more comprehensive comparison of data needs to happen next. “This project really provides the first analysis using massive comparative genomics to give understanding to a physiological trait like aging. We were unsure of whether anything would be found, and surprised at the strength of the signal. The next steps will involve more comprehensive comparison of other genomic regions, generating a better comparative database, and comparing other life history traits to genomic features. We must confirm the function of these regions in a lab model,” Faulk said.

This work was supported by the NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, as well as the SUNY Polytechnic Institute Research Foundation.

Contact information:
Christopher Faulk
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Animal Science
College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences

News and Announcements

Fifteen Animal Science upcoming juniors and seniors were awarded $1000 Animal Science Departmental scholarships for the 2018-2019 school year. The scholarships were awarded based on scholastic achievement, leadership, and participation in departmental activities. These scholarships are made possible by the generosity of private donors:

Dr. M. E. Ensminger Scholarship - Daniel Hayes, Rachel Coyne
Dr. Wilson G. Pond Scholarship - Brady Bobendrier
Dr. Robert Touchberry Scholarship - Krista Styer, Lauren Hendel, Morgan Krause
Leonard Wulf Scholarship – Jennifer Fidler, Rachel Weidmayer, Haely Leiding
Dr. Robert M. Jordan Scholarship - Kirsten Hall
Dr. Richard Goodrich Scholarship - Kayla Leiding
Dr. Don Otterby Scholarship – Alyssa Groskopf, Brooke Roberts, Jacob Siewert
Dr. Charles Christians – Nicholas Pitlick

As printed in the WingTips eNewsletter.

The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association is pleased to announce that three students, Mariah Huberty, Jenna Stauffenecker, and Joseph Lenneman, have received the 2018 Ranelius Scholarship.

Mariah Huberty, from Harris, MN, is a second-year senior at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Growing up, Mariah has been very active in the poultry industry winning many top honors in 4-H and FFA at the state and national level. She is also the owner and manager of Lofty Dream Poultry, a self-sustainable, NPIP certified hatchery. Mariah raises and sells quality poultry while learning how to care for different birds in her flock at all live stages, financial, business, and records management, web design, and marketing. MTGA salutes Mariah for all her hard work!

On April 4-7, graduate students Haley Johnson, Josh Zeltwanger, and Allison VanDerWal attended the Plains Nutrition Conference in San Antonio, TX. The conference was for individuals in both the industry and academia to educate them on current topics and issues within the beef industry. Department of Animal Science graduate students attended this conference to learn from and meet renowned professors and industry representatives. Graduate student Allison VanDerWal presented her own research in the graduate student poster competition. Favorite talks included learning about total efficiency in a feedyard from Dr. Alfredo DiCostanzo, maximizing efficiency in corn cropping and applying it to feeding cattle from Dr. Fred Owns, and learning about international beef production and opportunities beef production has in places like Brazil and Argentina from Dr. Pablo Guiroy.

The Nelson Scholarship is named in honor of Pete Nelson, who served the University of Minnesota as the Supervisor of Andrew Boss Laboratory of Meat Science from 2007 to 2013. In honor of Pete Nelson, the Minnesota Association of Meat Processors offers two scholarships to students currently enrolled as either an undergraduate or graduate student at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Animal Science or the Department of Food Science and Nutrition. Recipients of the scholarship were announced at the 2018 MAMP Annual Convention in St. Cloud. A summary of these talented students’ activities and accomplishments can be found below.

Mariah Huberty will graduate from the University of Minnesota this spring with a B.S. in Animal Science with a poultry production emphasis and minors in Agriculture Food and Business Management and Sustainability in Agriculture and is applying to the graduate program. Starting out as a 4‐H youth hatching chicks for county fair exhibition, she managed 750 birds at once, consisting of breeding, laying and broiler chickens, turkeys and also hogs. She was one of four national finalists with her FFA Poultry Proficiency SAE in 2016. Her five research studies, leadership and community service allowed her to be a State STAR in Agriscience finalist and earn her FFA State degree in 2016 and many grand champion honors in 4‐H. Achieving sustainability within her National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) certified hatchery, Lofty Dreams Poultry was important to Mariah. Her facility utilized recycled and surplus building materials and she breeds for increased meat and egg yield. This lead to speaking at numerous state and local community events and news media outlets on poultry topics, serving in leadership roles as an ambassador and treasurer and creating the educational materials found on her website, Lofty Dreams As a member of the Gopher Poultry Science Club, she has enjoyed assisting with club activities and the FFA COE poultry judging contest annually. She also continues to serve in 4‐H as an adult volunteer and mentor, giving back to the organization which have provided her with many state and national learning and leadership opportunities over 14 years in the program. As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism, Mariah has dependably worked four semesters at the University of Minnesota’s Poultry Research Barn and Lab Facility where her role includes sample collection, bird care, processing, recordkeeping and data computation for turkey nutritional feed analysis study and production studies. Recognized as the “Ducks in a Row” award recipient in the 2017 Midwest Poultry Consortium’s (MPC) Summer of Excellence program. She is applying to the University of Minnesota’s Animal Science Graduate Program with a production emphasis focus for the fall of 2018.

Grant Hedblom’s four years as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota and two years at 3M helped him recognize that his passion lies in understanding microbes and how they affect the global food supply. This fall, he entered his graduate career at the University of Minnesota ready toutilize his insights, passion, and knowledge to make a difference in the study and education of food microbiology. In 2013 Grant completed a summer research internship at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), working under world-wide expert in epidemiology, Dr. Michael Osterholm, where he assisted in the publication of articles and updates regarding emerging public health threats and infectious diseases. His first hands-on research experience was in the research laboratories at 3M. Grant was hired as a technical aide in a laboratory dedicated to the development of a chemical formulation for the generation of an anaerobic growth environment for the easy cultivation of anaerobic bacteria. This project received 3M’s Circle of Technical Excellence & Innovation award – signifying it as one of the top 5 research projects across the entire company in 2014. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Grant was fortunate to continue his work at 3M on the anaerobic atmosphere project, which had been moved to the Food Safety Division of 3M for scale-up and development as a 3M TM PetriFilmTM Lactic Acid Bacteria Count Plates for use in lactic acid bacteria enumeration and detection. In the fall of 2016, he began his PhD studies at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in the laboratory of Dr. David Baumler where he has been utilizing genome-scale metabolic models to understand the nutrient utilization of Listeria monocytogenes to better understand how this major threat to food safety proliferates and develops in foods. These computational simulations will predict gene and metabolite usage for growth in foods that are notorious for L. monocytogenes contamination, such as soft cheeses, dairy products, and ready-to-eat deli meats. This type of modeling has been performed for other foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella, and Escherichia coli O157:H7, and will be the first of their kind for L. monocytogenes. After obtaining his doctorate, Grant plans to work in the food industry to develop new detection methods for bacteria and other microorganisms in foods.

The annual recognition banquet of the Gopher Dairy Club was held Sunday, February 25, in the ballroom of the Radisson Roseville. About 200 students, parents, faculty, and industry representatives were in attendance. President Laura Jensen, Comstock, WI, served as emcee. CFANS Dean Brian Buhr welcomed those in attendance, and Princess Kay Emily Annexstad provided remarks. The keynote speaker was Sheryl Meshke, Co-CEO of AMPI, New Ulm, MN.

The club's Golden Graduate Award was presented to Mr. Brad Rugg, MN 4-H Animal Science Program Director, and David and Donna Anderson, Guernsey breeders from Lester Prairie, MN, received the club's Distinguished Service Award. New members of the club in 2017 received scholarships, including Katie Thompson, Plainview, MN, who received the Douglas Siem $2,000 Memorial Award as the highest ranking applicant for the new student scholarships.

Morgan Krause, Buffalo, MN, was announced as the R. W. Touchberry Outstanding Junior in Animal Science. The club recognized Gabriella Sorg, Hastings, MN, as its Outstanding Senior and Rachel Coyne, Spring Valley, WI, as its Outstanding Rookie (sophomore). Also, Laura Jensen and Gabriella Sorg were announced as the club's two nominees for National Dairy Shrine's Senior Student Recognition Program. The banquet program concluded with a slide show from the club's senior trip to California, which took place from January 6 to 15.

The Golden Graduate Award was presented to Brad Rugg, who is shown with wife Lorrie Rugg (left) and Betty McAndrews, who provided the oral citation for Rugg.

Katie Thompson (right) was presented the Doug Siem Memorial Award as the 2017 top new student accompanied by Rachel Coyne, the 2016 recipient.

Outstanding Rookie Rachel Coyne (left) and Outstanding Senior Gabriella Sorg.

Morgan Krause was announced as the R. W. Outstanding Junior in Animal Science and was congratulated by fellow GDC member and Princess Kay of the Milky Way Emily Annexstad.

The Anderson family -- David, Donna, daughter Karen Johnson, son-in-law Beau Johnson, and son Kevin -- received the Distinguished Service Award.

University of Minnesota students participated in the 17th Annual North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge® (NAIDC) held April 12-14 in Visalia, CA. In total, 235 students from 38 colleges across the U.S. and Canada attended this educational event.

The national contest team consisted of Ethan Dado, Laura Jensen, Blaine Knutson, and Austin Schmitt. The students represented the University of Minnesota well and gave highly rated presentations. Six students participated in the Dairy Challenge® Academy: Anne Benzine, Amber Cafferty, Lauren Hendel, Krista Styer, and Jake Siewert. The NAIDC teams are coached by Dr. Marcia Endres.

Dairy Challenge® is an innovative three-day competition and learning opportunity (Academy) for students representing dairy science programs at North American universities. It enables students to apply theory and learning to a real-world dairy, while working as part of a team. In its 17-year history, Dairy Challenge has helped train more than 6,400 students through the national contest, Dairy Challenge Academy and four regional contests conducted annually.

Collegiate participants visited six dairy farms in California, as part of their training to help farmers evaluate and adapt management to optimize success and animal care. Also, industry professionals presented cutting-edge research, new programs and career opportunities to students. 

Each contest team received information from an area dairy, including production and farm management data. After an in-person inspection of the dairy, students interviewed the herd owners. Each team developed a farm analysis and recommendations for nutrition, reproduction, milking procedures, animal health, housing and financial management.

The event culminated with team members presenting recommendations and then fielding questions from a panel of judges. These official judges included dairy producers and industry experts in dairy finances, reproduction, nutrition and animal health. Presentations were evaluated for accuracy of analysis and recommendations, with awards presented at a final banquet.

The Dairy Challenge Academy was developed in 2013 to expand this educational and networking event to more college students. Academy student-participants also analyzed and developed recommendations for an operating dairy; however, the Academy was organized in mixed-university teams with two Advisors to help coach these younger students. 

For more information, visit or

This year’s Minnesota Nutrition Conference is September 19-20, 2018, at Verizon Center in Mankato, MN.

“New Innovations for the Use of the Soybean” is the theme of this year’s Pre-conference Symposium, sponsored by the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. The symposium will be held on the morning of September 19.

The General Session, “Challenges Facing Animal Production”, begins on the afternoon of September 19. A welcome reception will follow.

On day 2 (September 20), attendees may choose any of three concurrent sessions on ruminant, non-ruminant and equine feeding and nutrition presented by speakers from academia and industry.

The conference planning committee is busy working on topic and speaker selections, which will be announced in the next several weeks. Registration will open this spring.

Please visit the conference website for conference updates:

79th Minnesota Nutrition Conference
September 19-20, 2018
Verizon Center (New Venue!)
1 Civic Center Plaza
Mankato, MN 56001

In early February, Dr. Pedro Urriola presented at Pig Ski 2018. This conference gathers approximately 80 pork producers and service companies (e.g., financial services, genetics, pharmaceutical, feed additives) under the motto of learning, family, and fun. Pedro shared the work happening at the University of Minnesota with distillers’ coproducts such as prediction of energy, amino acid digestibility, dietary fiber, etc. He also talked about the Integrated Animal Systems Biology group, sustainable pork production, and management of food waste.

During his time at Pig Ski, Pedro learned about two companies developing new ways to raise and sell pork in innovative ways. These companies are rapidly adjusting their business models to global and United States market forces. Clemens Food Group is vertically integrated from production, harvest, distribution and recently opened a new processing plant in Coldwater, MI. New Fashion Pork is located in Jackson, MN; they partnered to build a new plant for Triumph Foods in Sioux City, IA. The capacity for processing pork in the United States has increased to accommodate for global demand. At the same time, consumers are requesting pork (poultry as well) that are raised under specific conditions such as antibiotic-free livestock production and transparency to the consumer in terms of animal care and production systems. Clemens has adjusted their model to create the Farm Promise brand that promises No Antibiotics Ever (NAE). New Fashion Pork has partnered with the Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit focused on improving farm animal welfare, to build and design a new sow barn in Thorp, WI. The results of these enterprises and their impact on how we raise and feed pigs is yet to be determined.

For more information on global and North America animal protein production for 2018, you can listen to a podcast from Rabobank financial services.

Graduate Student Spotlights

Anna is originally from Huntington Beach, California. She moved to the Midwest in the fall of 2011 to attend Iowa State University to obtain a bachelors in Animal Science. At Iowa State she worked in a swine nutritional physiology lab that encouraged her to go into swine nutrition (especially being from the concrete jungle that is Southern California). After graduation Anna moved up to Minnesota with her then fiancé to take a position at a small animal feed additive company focusing on feeding natural alternatives. After 1 1/2 years of working full-time and getting married, she went down to part-time in to be able to attend school full-time to obtain her master’s degree in Animal Science. Currently, Anna is keeping herself very busy with her on-going trial for her thesis. Her research focuses on fetal programming, supplementing mouse dams with a metabolite of leucine to reduce within-litter birth weight variation. If successful, Anna and her advisors hope to translate this into the swine industry. She plans to defend in fall 2018 and return to industry afterwards. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her husband and their dog and going to all types of Minnesota sporting events. 


Congratulations to Katie Cottingim (M.S.) on passing her final exam! Katie was advised by Dr. Sam Baidoo.

Calendar of Events

 May 31-June 1 – Dairy Cattle Welfare Symposium, Scottsdale, Arizona