Prized research | TSLN.com

Prized research

Rebecca Colnar
for Tri-State Livestock News

Amelia Tanner has been recognized as the Master's of Science recipient of the Western Section of the American Society of Animal Science Young Scholar Program, sponsored by Zinpro. Tanner received a plaque, monetary award and presented her research findings during the WSASAS annual meeting in Bend, Oregon. Tanner did not grow up directly in production agriculture, but she credits her involvement in 4-H and the World Food Prize Youth Institute in motivating her to pursue a career in Animal Science and reproductive biology.

"The field of reproductive biology is a profession that not only promises consequential outcomes, like improving global food security, but also enables its stewards to advance the frontiers of biology, agriculture and medicine," Tanner said. "More specifically, it is my desire to lead a research team investigating how neonatal physiology is changed by maternal pregnancy adaptations to environmental or nutritional stress."

One of the experiences that inspired Tanner to pursue a career in Animal Science was the Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassadors Program. According to Tanner, the hands-on program introduces high-school students to concepts in Animal Science such as animal nutrition, livestock reproductive management, meat science, animal use ethics and responsible livestock production. The outcome of the program is an animal science-literate task force of high school-aged students working with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension to serve and educate the public and encourage other students to pursue excellent livestock production practices.

"The Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassador program coupled with my own experiences in 4-H, raising and judging livestock inspired an insatiable curiosity about how nutrition and genetics could improve or damage carcass quality," Tanner said. "Through my undergraduate research, I learned that maternal environmental factors (maternal nutrition, heat, cold, altitude, etc.) affecting fetal growth, could also have a profound impact on red meat production.

“The field of reproductive biology is a profession that not only promises consequential outcomes, like improving global food security, but also enables its stewards to advance the frontiers of biology, agriculture and medicine. More specifically, it is my desire to lead a research team investigating how neonatal physiology is changed by maternal pregnancy adaptations to environmental or nutritional stress.”Amelia Tanner

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Tanner's second meaningful experience that motivated her to pursue Animal Science was the World Food Prize Youth Institute. This program for high-school students is designed to involve them in food security discussions by allowing them to serve as delegates and attend the World Food Prize Laureate Ceremony & Borlaug Dialogues in Des Moines, Iowa. In addition, students can present the findings of their research to expert panelists and their own peers at the Global Youth Institute.

"This eye-opening experience is part of Dr. Norman Borlaug's legacy, inspiring the next generation of 'hunger fighters'," Tanner explained. Students may be selected as a delegate by composing a research paper addressing a specific issue impeding food security in a developing country, and by presenting that research at their state's youth institute and competition." My experiences through the World Food Prize Youth Institute and the USDA Wallace-Carver Fellowship inspired me to see how my passion for animal agriculture and science could practically translate to improved livestock production outcomes for producers globally."

The unique combination of opportunities made Tanner's decision to enter Animal Science an easy choice and her involvement in undergraduate research at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX helped her understand how a career in pregnancy biology would allow dual benefits to society.

"By using animal models to improve animal health outcomes for the producer, this research could also lead to a clearer understanding of diseases harming human pregnancies," Tanner said, adding that animal scientists know inadequate nutrition for beef cows during gestation can result in compromised growth of their calf crop.

"Unfortunately, nutrient restriction during the winter months is common in extensively managed beef cattle operations in the upper Midwest and Canada due to snow-cover of rangeland and degrading quality of stored forage" the researcher said. Her Master's research in Dr. Kimberly Vonnahme's lab aimed at addressing this problem by testing whether an energy-rich feed supplement (corn fed at 0.2% of body weight) was an effective strategy to enhance low-quality forage supplement during the winter months to gestating beef cows.

To tackle this question, a unique collaboration between North Dakota State University in Fargo, the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, CA, and the NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center was developed between reproductive physiologists, beef cattle nutritionists, beef cattle extension specialists, immunologists, geneticists, and meat scientists. The central question the research team wanted to understand is: Would additional dietary energy (corn) enhance low-quality forage supplementation to gestating beef cows and influence the health, feed efficiency and carcass quality of those calves?

Tanner explained that to measure these outcomes, they 1) continuously monitored of maternal feed intake and feeding behavior to calculate feed efficiency with a specialized feeding system called Insentec Feeders (using RFID technology), 2) measured uterine blood flow to the calf with Doppler ultrasound (to measure the potential nutrients available to the calf when he is in the uterus), 3) tracked pregnant cow hormones to tell us how her metabolism was responding to the diet, 4) examined many calving parameters including calf growth, health, and testicular development, 5) monitored calf growth after weaning, during the backgrounding and finishing phases, and 6) examined carcass quality.

"This project was unique because it provided the opportunity to follow a calf crop from conception to the plate," Tanner said. "We found that corn supplementation increased the average daily gain of the cows during pregnancy compared to those just fed hay. Additionally, we saw hormone responses in the cows fed corn that indicated they were in a less negative energy balance during pregnancy. While uterine blood flow and calf birth weight wer not altered, we found that corn is an excellent substitute for hay with no negative impacts on calf growth, feedlot performance or meat quality. In fact, adding corn supplement when hay supply is limited or expensive may be more cost efficient for producers and yield an equal quality calf crop."

Currently, Tanner is working on her PhD at Colorado State University in Fort Collins at the Animal Reproduction & Biotechnology Lab as a USDA National Needs Predoctoral Fellow. "My doctoral research is focused on using animal models (sheep) and gene targeting approaches (silencing placental genes) to understand a pregnancy pathology called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) that impacts both livestock and humans."

The project is a collaboration between the Department of Biomedical Sciences (Dr. Russell Anthony's Lab) at Colorado State University and the Perinatal Research Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus- University of Colorado Denver.

"We are using a technology called RNA interference to reduce a very important hormone produced by the placenta called chorionic somatomammotropin or more commonly known as placental lactogen. Cows, sheep, humans and many other species make this hormone during pregnancy and it is important for fetal growth and placental function. When placental lactogen decreases, IUGR can occur," Tanner explained. "My PhD research is examining 1) exactly how placental lactogen can change fetal growth and 2) what happens when there isn't enough placental lactogen. We are measuring responses in the ewe, the fetal lamb, and in the placenta to low placental lactogen. We are also look how mom, baby and fetus use glucose, and any changes in their metabolism as a result of low placental lactogen. This is an excellent example of how animal models for human disease can help us understand a pathology more completely and improve both livestock production and human medicine."

Tanner says ultimately they hope to uncover mechanisms that pharmaceuticals could target to help human babies and aid producers in improving their lamb survive-ability. We are in the beginning stages of this project which I will be involved with for the next few years of my doctoral studies." F