Thursday, December 13, 2018

Destined to Be a Scientist

Sarah Klopatek, a research assistant at the University of California-Davis, was one of the five students to receive a scholarship to attend the 2018 CAST Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California, during the last full week of October. The pilot CAST Science Communication Scholarship Program required applicants to submit a 30-second video explaining why science communication plays such a critical role in sharing their research findings. Klopatek explains how her research helps bridge the gap between cattle ranchers in California with consumers all over the world and how science communication is key in successfully accomplishing this feat. Her video can be found on CAST's YouTube channel and other CAST social media.

Klopatek has a very unique background--she was raised by a microbiologist biochemist and a global systems ecologist. Spending most of her childhood surrounded by scientists and field research, it is no surprise that she chose to pursue a career as a scientist. "I fell in love with science because it's all I've ever known." With soil sample bags in hand, twelve-year-old Klopatek would keep herself entertained as her parents took to their research. Growing up, you could often find her riding horses, playing lacrosse, or swinging a punch or two at boxing practice. "I think being an athlete really prepared me to become a scientist. You must endure a lot in both professions. Being an athlete you have to push your body, where scientists have to push their minds."

Following high school, Klopatek chose to obtain her undergrad degree in animal science at the University of Arizona. "My parents were professors at Arizona State University, so of course I went to U of A." Four years flew by and she found herself being accepted into the school of veterinary medicine. Realizing that beef cattle and sustainability was her true calling, Klopatek chose to continue her education at Texas A&M University. She credits Texas A&M for being the "best decision" she has ever made. It helped her establish a beef background from pasture to plate and opened her eyes to the beef system as a whole.

Klopatek chose to relocate to California for her Ph.D. work because UC-Davis was housing a wide variety of systems work at the time. Jim Oltjen at UC-Davis was a great mentor who helped take Klopatek's research to the next level and allowed her to do research that answers system questions. "I learned that in order to measure sustainability of beef myopically, we must evaluate its relationship with policy, consumers, environmental health, human health, and worker health." She finds California to be filled with ranchers who face unique opportunities and challenges every day--providing her with a great place to study and grow.

When reminiscing on her journey of becoming a beef sustainability scientist, Klopatek reflected on many life lessons she learned along the way. "When I was younger, I was horrible with change. I have been very fortunate to have great mentors throughout my educational career, and Dr. Todd Calloway was one of those people. He taught me how to roll with the punches and not be my own worst enemy. You can plan for everything to go right in your experiment or project, but things will still go wrong. There will be speed bumps and that's okay. Learn to adapt." Calloway once told her, "You are literally getting time in your life where you get paid to learn and discover. You are a monk of science. That is a gift." If Klopatek could give advice to other young scientists, she would encourage them to enjoy the journey and to compartmentalize. "Sometimes your original plans don't pan out. Instead of making a plan for your life, make an outline and realize that it isn't the blueprint of your life. It is an outline to keep you moving closer toward your goals."

As Klopatek looks to the future, her intention as a cattle sustainability scientist is to influence legislation and policy that would appropriately reinforce environmental and animal welfare that is economically adventitious to both producers and consumers. "I have been able to work on research that I love and believe in. There is so much good science out there, and it needs to be shared with the people in a way that they can understand and resonate with it." Klopatek tells her students, "Your master's gets you the toolbox. Your Ph.D. teaches you how to use those tools. The thing is, your toolbox doesn't go away once you graduate. You should be able to use those tools for whatever science and science communication you are interested in." Klopatek plans to use her toolbox at the senate to help influence change and policy for the science and agricultural community. It has been a pleasure getting to know her, we wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors, and we look forward to continuing to work with her.

Click here to watch Sarah Klopatek's video on why she is so passionate about people, the planet, and animals.

By: Kylie Peterson

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

CAST Has Much to Look Forward to in the New Year

A Word from Gabe Middleton, CAST's New President


As I recently took over the gavel as President of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, I was able to reflect on last spring’s Board of Directors meeting in Washington, D.C., as well as my recent trip to the CAST office in Ames and the World Food Prize in Des Moines. I am reminded of a simple yet significant quote by one of CAST’s past presidents, Dr. Mark Armfelt: “CAST does important work.” CAST’s legacy of communicating sound science, started by Dr. Norman Borlaug, has never been stronger and more exciting.

As I visited with agricultural professionals in D.C., I recognized the impact that CAST’s publications have on ag policy. I attended a Global Farmer’s Roundtable in Des Moines at the World Food Prize. Farmers from around the world discussed their challenges, none greater and more timely than access to biotechnology and acceptance of that technology by consumers. Dr. Armfelt’s words continue to run across my mind.

CAST has remained relevant due to the work of the staff, Executive Vice President Kent Schescke, and the boards (representatives, directors, and trustees). I have been so impressed by the engagement these groups have shown and how that commitment helps to further the mission of CAST to synthesize and communicate sound science. The publication output has never been stronger in CAST, and the future for 2019 is very bright. CAST has published six papers so far in 2018, with another potential paper soon to be released. All of this year’s publications have been well received, with no CAST paper ever being as popular as Genome Editing in Agriculture: Methods, Applications, and Governance. This paper will be presented to global ag policymakers and may shape the regulation of gene-edited crops throughout the world.

As mentioned, CAST has several very interesting and important papers to be released in 2019. This is a testament to the CAST staff and boards’ abilities to create a proposal, create a task force, and keep authors on track for a timely release. When all of this happens in an efficient manner, the results are phenomenal. All of those involved in CAST have their fingerprints on publications in some way.  I would encourage you to join CAST for a paper rollout if you have never done so before. While travel to the rollout may not always be feasible, look for other options, such as Facebook live or archived videos, to view the publication release. CAST, and agriculture in general, benefit when engagement and education are increased.

I’m humbled and excited to lead CAST in 2019. Everyone involved in CAST certainly feels the same excitement for the coming year. I am looking forward to increasing involvement of the boards, maintaining excellent publication output, and continuing CAST’s relevance to ag policy and science communication into the future.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Cattle and Science Excite This Young Scientist

Maci Mueller, a graduate student assistant at the University of California-Davis, was one of the five students to receive a scholarship to attend the 2018 CAST Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California, during the last full week of October. The pilot CAST Science Communication Scholarship program required applicants to submit a 30-second video explaining why science communication plays such a critical role in sharing their research findings. Mueller explains why implementing sound and scientifically based agricultural policy is crucial for meeting the global needs of the future. Her video can be found on CAST's YouTube channel and other CAST social media.

Mueller's passion for science and cattle runs deep. In fact, one of her earliest childhood memories is when she hosted a cattle sale in her family's living room. "Well, we have a real nice group of cattle to look at here today. They are nice, big, and black," announced a young Mueller from her auction block (a Little Tykes table) as her younger brother entered the "show ring" leading their black lab puppy, appropriately named Angus. She feels very fortunate to have grown up working with her family on their first-generation Angus beef cattle operation. It has been a lifelong dream of hers to be influential in the cattle industry.

As she matured and became more involved in the family operation, she learned that it is so much more than just feed, care, and animal husbandry. "I saw firsthand the crucial role that innovative animal science research, particularly in genetics, plays in improving animal protein production efficiency. These experiences have ultimately led me to combining my two passions of science and cattle to pursue a career in animal genetics." Mueller's goal as an animal geneticist is to help make the premium source of protein produced by cattle more readily available through the use of genetic-based biotechnologies and related production practices and policies to help producers be as efficient and sustainable as possible.

Working closely with Alison Van Eenennaam, a BCCA Laureate, Mueller's graduate research focuses on the application of gene editing in livestock production systems for improved animal welfare and production efficiency. Her Ph.D. research is centered around examining the potential for combining advanced breeding technologies, like gene editing and the recent isolation of bovine embryonic stem cells (cells that are self-renewing and can differentiate into any embryo cell type), to produce surrogate sires. "This technology could be used to produce commercial environmentally  adapted bulls that produce elite donor bull-derived sperm to cows via natural service. The application of this research has the potential to improve beef production efficiency in the U.S. and worldwide, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of animal-sourced protein production."

Making it a priority of her graduate career to continue improving and refining her science communication skills, Mueller understands the importance of being able to communicate with and educate both producers and consumers about innovative science-based technologies. "I greatly appreciated the opportunity provided by CAST to attend the 2018 CAST Annual Meeting in Sacramento. I gained valuable insight and understanding of how this nonprofit accomplishes their important mission of assembling, interpreting, and communicating credible, balanced, science-based information." We believe she has a wonderful example of effective science communication through her mentor Van Eenennaam, and we look forward to watching Mueller follow in her footsteps.

As Mueller looks toward the future, her ultimate career goal is to provide research and education that results in new genetic-based biotechnologies for use in livestock production systems to improve animal production by decreasing its environmental footprint and enhancing its nutritional quality. It has been a true pleasure getting to know her, and we look forward to working with her in the future.

Related Links:
Click here to watch Mueller's video submission.
Follow Mueller on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Learn more about her research and FFAR Fellowship here.
Visit Van Eenennaam's Lab Website here.

By: Kylie Peterson