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Field Notes

Anika Shelrud

Natalia Sheppard, a senior who's majoring in Biological Sciences at UNC, changes medium for cellls to grow in. Photo by Woody Myers.

May 18, 2021

U.S. Department of Agriculture Awards UNC Grant to Improve Pregnancy Outcomes in Cows

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded UNC a four-year, $500,000 grant to improve pregnancy outcomes in dairy and 
beef cows.

UNC Professor Patrick Burns, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor James Haughian, Ph.D., are using fish byproducts, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, to improve reproduction in female cows in the dairy and 
beef industries.

If Burns and Haughian’s research proves positive, dairy farmers and cattle ranchers could see an increase in profits that would then trickle down to consumers as cost savings when purchasing milk and beef products. Another benefit of this is potentially applying their research to other fields of biology, such as human reproductive processes.

“You often also learn something about the way humans operate, as well,” Haughian said. “In some ways, we know more about how we, as humans, reproduce due to work done in cattle, sheep, pigs, etc. There’s this ultimate benefit to better understanding human reproductive processes.” 

Burns and Haughian have partnered with Colorado State University’s Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory to house and care for the animals and feed them the omega-3-rich fish byproducts for their research. They’re also conducting research in their lab at UNC with the help of numerous UNC undergraduate and graduate students.

“This gives an opportunity for undergraduates to participate in authentic research experiences and an opportunity to work with large, domestic farm animals,” said Burns. “It allows these students to get into the laboratory and develop hands-on laboratory skills.”

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