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UW Animal Science Department continues growth

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Laramie – With faculty shortages alleviated and new projects on track, the University of Wyoming (UW) Animal Science Department has a bright future ahead, according to Acting Department Head Warrie Means.

“I consider our department in transition in several ways,” Means comments, “and we are really excited about where the department is headed.”

From new faculty members, to new projects and new classes, the department continues to meet a higher level of excellence.  

“We continue to appreciate the contributions of faculty members who have been here for a long time,” Means says, “but it is exciting to have these changes occurring with our new faculty and new direction.”

Today, the UW Animal and Veterinary Science (ANVS) curriculum, which is a joint program with the Department of Animal Science and the Department of Veterinary Science, is home to 213 undergraduate students.

Additionally 12 animal science graduate students are completing their degrees at UW. 

Faculty additions

Five notable animal science faculty members have been added in the Animal Science Department at UW. 

Bledar Bisha is a faculty member in food microbiology. 

“Dr. Bisha is developing a research program and teaching a couple of classes,” Means says. “He is off to a great start.”

His specific research interests include control, detection and ecology of foodborne pathogens. Bisha is actively working on novel approaches to mitigate antimicrobial resistance within the food supply.

“The theme of his research is rapid detection methods for pathogens, including Salmonella, Listeria, pathogenic E. coli and others,” Means notes. 

Wei Guo is another faculty member who has been at UW only a short time. 

“Dr. Guo is a muscle biologist who studies titin – the largest protein in the world that we know of,” Means explains. “Titin is important in muscle cells and serves as a template to center myosin, a major muscle contraction protein, in the muscle cell and helps the cell resist over-stretching.”

The significance of this research is that titin seems to be important in muscle and heart diseases, and Means notes, “This protein is important in livestock production systems and is related to meat quality, especially beef tenderness. We are really excited about the direction Wei’s research is headed.”

Fetal programming

In addition to those researchers, Peter Nathanielsz joined the department as a Distinguished Research Professor of Life Course Health. He will work with Steve Ford in the area of fetal programming.

“Dr. Nathanielsz is a world-renowned researcher in this area,” Means says. “He just moved to UW, and we are working to make our fetal programming group a Center of Excellence.”

As a Center of Excellence, the fetal programming lab would be a nationally recognized research hub and an example of a program that incorporates the work of multiple disciplines working toward a common goal.

Livestock positions

More specifically related to livestock, the Animal Science Department hired equine science lecturer Jenny Ingwerson. 

“She is a great teacher and has some innovative ideas for the program,” Means says. “We are working on arena and facilities upgrades at the Laramie Research and Extension Center in collaboration with the Agricultural Experiment Station, and we are discussing plans for increasing our equine herd.”

With the wheels in motion, Means says they will continue to work towards keeping Wyomingites apprised of the developments in the equine science program. 

“Jenny is also training an equine judging team that will start judging either late this semester or next semester,” he continues. “We are really looking forward to that.”

“We also just hired a new livestock judging coach,” Means adds. “We are excited for Caleb Boardman to join us in mid-May.” 

Boardman is already recruiting students for the fall 2015 livestock judging class. 

UW’s meat judging team also continues to excel under the direction of coach Zeb Gray, who joined UW several years ago. 

“It is really exciting to see our young people, so engrossed in meat judging, learning about the industry, team building and hard work,” Means says. “They are proving they have what it takes to be successful.”

“We have really good faculty here – good enough that people come in and try to recruit them away,” Means says. 

Education collaboration

Means continues that UW will work towards developing a higher level of cooperation and collaboration with their community college colleagues to ease the transition for students who are transferring into the department. 

“I’ve been talking to my colleagues at Wyoming community colleges on a weekly basis, and we are working on articulation between the community colleges and UW,” he notes. “Our goal is a smoother transfer of students.”

Additionally, he mentions that UW will continue to collaborate with community colleges on livestock judging programs. 

“Last year the community colleges were extremely instrumental, and we couldn’t have pulled off a successful 4-H livestock judging contest at the Wyoming State Fair without them,” Means says. “There is a lot of excitement around the collaborative efforts that come from the contest.”

Continuing programs

The Steer-A-Year Program is also continuing into 2015, says Means, and currently, the department is seeking the commitment of steers to go towards the judging programs. 

“We are in the early stages of working on that program this year,” he says. “I think there are people who will want to donate a steer to support our judging programs.”

Department head

Since Doug Hixon, previous head of the Department of Animal Science, retired in June 2013, Means has taken the reins as acting lead of the department. However, a recent search for the new department head is coming to a close. 

“We interviewed three outstanding candidates for department head,” Means says. “The last one was at the end of February, and we are really excited to announce the successful candidate.”

“We are looking for someone to lead us to a higher level of performance,” he continues. “I really think our department is on a springboard to achieve great successes.”

Exciting times

“With all of our new hires, there is a real sense of excitement in the department and a sense of excitement and collaboration in the state,” Means says. “We are setting ourselves up to launch into some very cool successes in the future.”

Means cites the Wyoming Legislature’s decision to fund the first phase of the Science Initiative this year as particularly exciting. The second phase of the Initiative would bring new facilities for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. 

“In phase two, molecular biology would move out of this building and move into a new space,” Means explains. “The remainder of the building would go to animal science.”

“One of our biggest drawbacks is space – office space, lab space, teaching space and more,” he continues. “It would really help us to have more space.”

Overall, Means expresses a high level of optimism for the future of UW’s Animal Science Department. 

“We are in a really good position to make some very positive contributions to science, our undergraduate program and the state,” Means comments.

Future development

With several other positions still open across the Animal Science Department, Acting Department Head Warrie Means says they will continue to work towards fully staffing the department.

“We have permission to start the search for a ruminant microbiologist now,” he explains. “That person will work with our nutrition group and support our department in that area.”

The position will also compliment the work of the department’s other nutritionists and will overlap somewhat with the work of Kristi Cammack, who studies the genetics of the ruminant microbiome and its relation to feed efficiency. Bledar Bisha will also likely interact with this new hire as he is interested in pathogens in the gut microflora.

“There is a lot of interest in that position,” Means says.

Other open positions include a genomics position, which will replace long-time reproductive biology faculty member Bill Murdock’s position. 

On top of the research faculty additions, the department is also hiring a new office associate. 

“This person will become an integral part of the office support team and will work with faculty, staff and students,” Means says. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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