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

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Climate Report--Forecasts, Links, and Extremes

Global Forecast: 

* A majority of scientists will continue to note that: (1) the earth's climate is changing, (2) humans have some influence over that, and (3) projections are dire if no further action is taken.
*In the short term, pressure systems will build as hot air blows from various directions.
*Long-term trends show that high and low pressure fronts may generate thunder and lightning but little concrete action.
*Optimistic prognosticators indicate that a pressure system built on scientific facts and common sense practices is slowly building--and less threatening climate patterns could dominate in the future. Other forecasters are less hopeful.

Climate Report:

A recent U.S. federal report finds that climate change is affecting the natural environment, agriculture, energy production, land/water resources, and human health. Some government officials disagree with the findings, saying the predictions are "worst-case scenarios." One of the lead authors of the report counters those statements with a list of "five misleading myths" that are being promoted by climate change deniers.

Agriculture and Climate:

Commentators and experts reacted to the report with predictions and observations about specific sections of the United States. This Kansas City publication focuses on potential dangers for Midwest agriculture, and another response says that effects will vary, but major crops in various areas are posed to suffer. A livestock expert also points out that meat production is not a major culprit for climate change--he says modern practices make livestock agriculture more productive and environmentally friendly.

A Blast of Hot and Cold Air:

What we're all trying to avoid.
According to this report, combined data from NOAA and NASA show that the twenty warmest years on record have all come since 1995. Of course, old timers can point out extreme weather seasons in the past. Dad was a teenager when the 1940 Armistice Day blizzard "froze roosting birds to branches in the trees" and "stranded children in the one-room school houses that dotted the rural areas." And the heat waves of the 1930s were burned into the psyche of some of the farmers we worked for when we were kids: "Folks slept in their front yards and went to the town ice house to buy chips of ice. Main Street was melting and horses were dying on the farm." A little hyperbole didn't go wrong either: "It was so hot the eggs were hard boiled before we even cracked them to fry on a car hood, and the cows were only producing evaporated milk."  

by dan gogerty (map from noaaclimate.gov, report cover from globalchange.gov, and cartoon from pinterest.com)



Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Blending a Love for Science and Nature

Rylie Ellison, a PhD student researcher at the University of California-Davis, was given the opportunity to attend the 2018 CAST Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California, during the last full week of October. Ellison and four other UC-Davis students were selected through the pilot CAST Science Communication Scholarship program. As part of her application process, Ellison was asked to submit a 30-second video explaining why she chose a career in scientific research and why science communication plays a crucial role in sharing her findings. Ellison's video can be found on CAST's YouTube channel and other CAST social media.

Ellison's appreciation for the outdoors was developed in her home state of Washington where she grew up hiking, camping, snowboarding, and kayaking. "As a researcher in agricultural and environmental chemistry, I can effortlessly blend my love for science with my love for being outdoors." In high school, Ellison had an "incredible teacher" whose passion and enthusiasm sparked her interest in science. As an undergraduate she knew she wanted to be a chemistry major, but she wasn't quite sure what she was going to do with it yet. Between her classwork and undergraduate research, she developed an interest in going to graduate school for applied research in an environmentally focused program. "I discovered the Agricultural and Environmental Chemistry Graduate Group at UC-Davis, which seemed to perfectly suit my desire for interdisciplinary research in a field where I could do research that would potentially make a real difference in agriculture."

She has wanted to be a scientist since high school and a researcher since college; however, her interest in agriculture wasn't developed until graduate school. "Going from thinking about agriculture in the abstract to being in and around it every day has shown me how important and thankless the work that farmers do every day is. They feed the world and I am happy to do research that helps them to continue to do just that."

Now that Ellison is done with classes she is completely focused on her research, which is centered around a process that uses hydrodynamic cavitation to rapidly break down and sterilize manure, along with stabilizing chemical additives to produce a stable fertilizer for field application. She is then testing how this affects nutrient cycling, plant growth, and gas emissions in agricultural soils. "I think with the way the climate is changing, we will have to continue to adapt the way we grow food to keep up with the changes in conditions, resources, and populations."

When looking toward the future, Ellison is hoping to make a career out of environmental policy and science communication. "I believe that providing a balanced scientific voice in policy-making is essential to influencing informed decision-making skills that affect both people in the agricultural industry and consumers. It is my goal to bridge the communication gap between different groups, including policymakers and the public. Another exciting project that Ellison is working on allows her to showcase her love for nature--the development of a curriculum for an outdoor STEM program for high school girls. It has been a pleasure getting to know her and we look forward to working with her in the future.

Click here to watch Rylie Ellison's video on why science communication is important to her research. You can also follow Ellison and her science communication efforts on LinkedIn.

By: Kylie Peterson

Monday, November 19, 2018

Capitalizing on a Coffee Addiction

Mackenzie Batali, a graduate student researcher at the University of California-Davis Coffee Center, was given the opportunity to attend the 2018 CAST Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California, during the last week of October. Batali and four other UC-Davis students were selected through the pilot CAST Science Communication Scholarship program. As part of her application process, Batali was asked to submit a 30-second video explaining why she chose a career in scientific research and why science communication plays a crucial role in sharing her findings. Batali's video can be found on CAST's YouTube channel and other CAST social media during the month of November as a reminder of why supporting CAST during this season of giving is so important for the future of science.

Batali brings a unique perspective to the agricultural industry because she grew up in a "foodie family" where she was most comfortable in a kitchen, the Seattle restaurant scene, or on stage for open mic night and karaoke. Ever since she was young, she expected to be a writer or an actress. That dream was derailed once she took her first high school chemistry class. "I discovered a knack and love for the subject."

Coming into science with a background in theatre, improvisational comedy, and creative writing, she decided to keep the arts as a hobby and pursued a degree in chemistry, focusing on organic synthesis at Lewis and Clark College. After completing her undergrad degree, Batali worked as a research and development synthesis chemist at Emerald Kalama Chemical where she synthesized flavor and fragrance products. This job gave her the freedom to revamp their internal fragrance analysis program and inspired her to pursue a graduate degree in food science at the University of California-Davis. "This gave me the opportunity to work at the forefront of coffee sensory research on a product I've loved for years."

Each day in the lab is different for Batali, but her excitement and passion for her research remains the same. She is currently working with the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) on research to update and expand their classic Coffee Brewing Control Chart in hopes of including more rigorous sensory descriptive data to guide brewing. Ultimately, the goal is to quantify how flavor profiles change with different variables in different brewing methods to create a more specific and scientifically based chart.

"My research at the UC-Davis Coffee Center is done with industry partners, funded by the SCA with the intent to disseminate information to all members in the coffee industry. This is not a purely scientific community. It is a community of farmers, roasters, cafe owners, and baristas coming from all backgrounds with a shared passion for coffee. Quality science communication allows our research to immediately and effectively reach all interested and enthusiastic members of the community-- improving their business and their craft with data-backed evidence." Batali shares that there is little academic research done in the coffee industry and as UC-Davis gains financial and research traction, she expects much of academia to follow, allowing the near future of coffee to be filled with new innovation and an influx of academic interests.

Improved science communication is another avenue of opportunity in her area of study. "I have a desire to make chemistry communications more accessible and more appealing to a wider audience instead of gate-keeping for education with high-level, dry jargon." She shares how it is incredibly easy for poor communication to result in misinformation that ends up in pop science articles all over social media. "In my research, the biggest opportunity for science communication is attending industry events and disseminating research to coffee industry professionals. There is a challenge of breaking the academia barrier to encourage understanding between industry practices and traditions, versus what science seems to show as best practice for coffee brewing."

Aside from cooking and fueling her caffeine addiction, you can often find Batali rock climbing, writing, or hiking. Upon completion of her degree, she hopes to continue into industry doing sensory work either in coffee or other food and beverage products. It has been a pleasure getting to know her and we look forward to working with her in the future.

Click here to watch Mackenzie Batali's video on why science communication is important to her research.

By: Kylie Peterson

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Thanksgiving in Analog and the Real Black Friday


The latest American Farm Bureau Federation price survey for Thanksgiving came out, and the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $48.90-- or less than $5.00 per person. Of course, that is without alcohol and other frills--and I’m wondering if the dessert is humble pie—but the low cost is impressive.

I looked up the prices for 1961. I was eleven years old then, sitting at a long, crowded table in Granny Faye’s house. She wasn’t much for hosting events, but even after my grandpa died, she kept up the Thanksgiving tradition. Apparently back then she could buy turkey at 35 cents a pound, potatoes at 8 cents a pound, and two cans of pumpkin for 29 cents.

Granny’s two sons both farmed within a half mile of the home place. Farms were closer together then, and these were filled with kids—fourteen between the two families. Most of us were boys growing up under the influence of Moe, Larry, and
Curly, but we managed to sit quietly during the prayer, and we appreciated the accordion-paper turkeys and pumpkins that made up the table d├ęcor. No one wrote texts or tweets as we shaped our mashed potatoes into lake beds for the gravy. Our only snap chats were when one of us would flick a small roll at a brother and call him a dork--but I have no Instagram photos to prove how immature we were. 

We did not watch pro football on the black and white TV, but cousin Terry might have a beat up pigskin on his lap. We were itching to get outside to play ball—what kid really likes cranberry sauce anyway? A promise of pumpkin pie is the only thing that kept us from bolting.

I have little recall of the meal chatter, but Granny might inform us that turkeys were not always the guest of honor at Thanksgiving. “Back then,” she’d say, “we used to butcher and dress barnyard chickens for the feast. Not much fun steaming and plucking feathers on a chilly morning.” We kids had been present at poultry harvest times, so a cousin might start describing the chicken-with-its-head-cut-off ritual until he was shushed.

As the autumn sun shone through the large south windows, Dad might point out, “Even though today is perfect for football, we’ve seen Thanksgivings when the ground was covered with snow. When I was about your age, the 1940 Armistice Day blizzard surprised us all. Farmers were caught out in the cornfields, hunters were nearly frozen to death in duck blinds, and chickens were stuck solid to their roosts. No weather forecasts to warn us back then.” Even at that age, I’d seen a Thanksgiving or two when the creek banks were lined with thin ice, and the morning sun lit up frost that coated woven wire fences and corn stalks left in the field after the harvest.

But this day had the brilliant light of a slanting autumn sun, and as soon as we hit the yard, it was all pass, run, argue, punt, fumble, and argue some more as we conveniently ignored the fact that someone was cleaning up after the big event. Back then, adults were like benevolent extraterrestrials who usually stayed in their own universe—until chore time.

“The cow needs milkin’,” some galactic overlord would announce. “And the steers in the lot across the road need five buckets of grain and eight bales of hay.” No holiday shopping excuses to save us. The corporate Madmen of the 60s hadn’t come up with Black Friday. We were bright enough kids, but the word “shopping” was not in our vocabulary, and merchants back then didn’t even think of hoisting Christmas on us until Thanksgiving was over.

The day was for celebrating family and the harvest--and for kids playing outside in the sunshine or snow. And the evening was for eating the meal I liked best--the leftovers. Dark turkey meat, warmed-up dressing with gravy on it, Mom's homemade bread, a slice of pumpkin pie. Living was easy.

Until the morning after Thanksgiving. No school, but Dad--the human alarm clock--would call into the bedroom, "Time to get up, boys," and after our eggs, toast, and orange juice, we put on five-buckle boots and headed to the hog house. Grunting pigs, a layer of muck, and worn pitchforks awaited us. Now that's what I call a real Black Friday.

by dan gogerty (top pic from fb.org, turkey graphic from blogher.com, Julia Child photo from pinterest.com, and cow pic from flickr-cushingmemorial.com)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Genome Editing Cows, Pigs, Salmon--and the Platypus?


Before digging into discussions about genome editing of farm animals, consider the duck-billed platypus. I lived in Australia for four years, and I’m still not sure if it is a mammal, a bird, or one of J. K. Rowling’s fantastic beasts. The monotreme has a duck’s bill, a beaver’s tail, and an otter’s feet. It lays eggs, uses electroreception to locate food, and has ankle spurs that can deliver a toxic poison. The evolutionary planning committee for the platypus must have been in its “outside the box” mode the day it conjured up this one.

Now scientists can apply powerful new tools that have the potential to revolutionize agricultural practices and food production. Amazing advances in genome editing mean that we can breed hornless cattle, fast-growing salmon, and pigs that might resist diseases. Some scientists, organizations, and members of the public urge caution, and government agencies are debating what types of regulations should apply. The following links are just a few of the many articles and research papers that deal with this important topic:

*** The United States joined with 12 other nations to support policies that enable agricultural innovation, including genome editing.

*** Dan Carlson of Recombinetics uses genome editing techniques with cows, and he explains why he feels confident about the safety of the food they produce. Jennifer Kuzma of NC-State is also an expert about the potential of genome editing, but she notes that there needs to be a broad conversation about the underlying genetics.

*** Kuzma was involved with the CAST publication led by Adam Bogdanove of Cornell University titled Genome Editing in Agriculture: Methods, Applications, and Governance. The peer-reviewed paper looks at how genome editing is performed and the current state of regulations. 

Alison Van Eenennaam at the UC-Davis Cattle Facility
*** Maybe the most active proponent regarding animal biotech is Alison Van Eenennaam of UC-Davis. She believes that some regulations can protect food safety, but she also argues that current FDA policies restrict technologies that could make agriculture more efficient by reducing the environmental footprint of food production. Van Eenennaam was the 2014 Borlaug CAST Communication Award winner, and she chaired the ground-breaking CAST Commentary The Science and Regulation of Food from Genetically Engineered Animals.

Science has been affecting livestock for a long time. When I was growing up on a farm, selective breeding was common, and artificial insemination was the buzz. We kids just saw our livestock as steers we had to feed and pigs that produced manure we had to pitch. The only biotech creature we had were bullheads we occasionally caught in the pasture creek. A sinister-looking, oily skinned fish with beady eyes, it has stingers that we were convinced would paralyze us. Of course, that was a childhood myth, but we had to fantasize with what we had. After all, no duck-billed platypus swam the streams of Iowa. I guess we’ll see what animals inhabit the feedlots of our future. 

by dan gogerty (top pic from worldwildlife.org and bottom from kpeterson)