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Research

Laramie – During a Feb. 18 banquet, University of Wyoming’s Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) held it’s 2015 Research Awards and Appreciation Banquet in Laramie and hosted a full room of Extension personnel, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources faculty and staff, University of Wyoming officials and community members. 

The event recognized the winners of the Early Career Research Award and the Outstanding Research Award, as well as those researchers with papers to be published in the College’s Reflections magazine. 

“The Agricultural Experiment Station has been doing what it does for a century and a quarter,” said UW President Richard McGinity in his opening remarks. “That is really something.”

McGinity noted that AES was established in 1891 to conduct scientific research to advance agriculture and the state’s rural communities. 

“AES continues to conduct ag and applied research on agriculture, natural and community issues related to the needs of Wyoming, the region and the world,” he said.

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean Frank Galey continued that the mission of a land-grant university is three-fold, including teaching, research and Extension. 

“Research is so critical for everything we do at a land-grant university,” Galey mentioned, noting that the researchers recognized during the banquet, as well as many others throughout the college, are producing a high standard of research.

Outstanding research

The Outstanding Research Award is presented to an established researcher in the College of Agriculture. The winner is recognized on a plaque in the AES Hall of Fame and receives a $1,000 award. 

This year, Scott Miller was recognized for his work.

John Tanaka, head of the Department of Ecosystems Science and Management, noted, “Dr. Scott Miller came to UW in 2002 as an assistant professor in the Department of Renewable Resources, which is now Ecosystems Science and Management. His research focus is special hydrology.”

Miller pursues research in innovative field and modeling techniques to better understand the transport of water and how humans change the hydrologic response. 

Early career 

The Early Career Research Award also received a $1,000 prize and recognition. Dan Levy of the Department of Molecular Biology received the award for his work on nuclear sizing. 

“Dan has a remarkable background in science,” said Department of Molecular Biology Head Mark Stayton. “He joined us in August 2011 as a new assistant professor.”

Prior to joining the University of Wyoming, Levy worked at the University of California – Berkeley on questions of nuclear size and its relation to health, which inspired the research he conducts today. 

In his three years at UW, Levy has published nine papers and secured over $2 million in direct research funding.

“The competition was extremely tough in this category, and all of our nominees were extremely deserving,” said Bret Hess, associate dean and AES director. 

Research papers

Each year, UW College of Ag faculty and students submit papers to be published in the research magazine Reflections. Each department elects a representative to draft a paper on behalf of their department for the magazine. 

The top paper is recognized with a $1,000 award. In addition, the department from which the research originated from also receives $1,000. 

With their paper titled, “Collaboration across continents: Predator compensation policies in the U.S. and France,” Ben Rashford, Tom Foulke, Jordan Steele and Tex Taylor won the honor in the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics.

UW College of Agriculture student Anna Scofield was also recognized as being the only student to have a paper published in the magazine. 

Other recognition

Also during the banquet, AES recognized the work of one employee who went above and beyond in working at UW AES. 

Jeremiah Vardiman signed on as the research associate at the Sheridan Research and Extension Center in 2009. As the center expanded and developed due to generous donations, Vardiman continued to accept the challenges associated with the facility. 

Vardiman recently moved to Powell to serve as an area Extension educator.

Bright future

McGinity said, “We have more opportunities than we can take advantage of. The College of Ag and AES is the role model for the outreach that the university really needs to make all across the state.” 

“The work going on here is world class, and the people here are world class,” he commented. “The future of the College of Agriculture – and the rest of the university – is bright.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 


Lingle
– “The big question my group tries to answer is whether or not antimicrobials in livestock cause or contribute to antimicrobial resistant infections in humans,” stated Noelle Noyes, a PhD student at Colorado State University (CSU) Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Noyes and other scientists gathered at the University of Wyoming James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) in Lingle on Sept. 10 for the High Plains Nutrition and Management Roundtable to share their recent findings concerning livestock issues.

“This is a very contentious topic, and it gets sensationalized in the media,” noted Noyes.

Human resistance to antibiotics is often blamed on sectors of agricultural production, inspiring Noyes and her team to investigate how bacterial genetics change throughout a feedlot system.

Research methods

“Typically, when we do surveillance for resistance in livestock, we use a so-called indicator bacteria. This might be a non-type-specific E. coli or Salmonella, for example,” she explained.

The indicator bacteria are isolated and tested for resistance to a particular drug.

“This becomes a little bit suspect when we think about the ecology of where bacteria are actually living,” she stated.

To illustrate her point, Noyes shared a pie chart depicting the thousands of different bacteria present in the environment.

If scientists are only looking at one kind of bacteria instead of all of the different strains, Noyes mentioned, “We may get a really biased picture of what is going on.”

Thanks to new technology, scientists are now able to look at the bigger picture using equipment called Generation Sequencing Machines.

“This technology is becoming very widely available and widely used by different groups. I think it’s important to understand the technology and understand the types of results that we get from it so we can respond to results appropriately,” she continued.

Data collection

To use the technology, scientists collect samples from soil, water, feces, surfaces or rinsates. All DNA is then extracted from the samples, fragmented into small pieces and catalogued in a library.

“The sequencer reads through all of the little fragments and spits out a file that tells us the DNA sequences of all of the fragments,” she said.

Those sequences are then compared to a catalog of known resistance genes.

“It’s a little more complex than that, but basically, that’s what happens,” she noted.

Noyes and her team have conducted a number of studies using the sequencer, but she focused on two of them in her presentation at the Roundtable.

“In the first study, we went into four feedlots, gathering data from two pens per feedlot, and we followed the cattle from the time they were placed to the time they were shipped,” she explained.

Bacteria samples were collected at various time points from the pens and transport trucks. Samples were also collected from the surface of chuck and round conveyor belts after the cattle went through the slaughter and fabrication process.

Bacterial samples

“There were 88 samples total, representing 11 per pen across each of the time points,” she stated.

Once the samples were processed, 4 billion DNA fragments were produced, and 1.2 million matched an antibiotic resistant sequence.

“This is where we start worrying about people saying that we found millions of resistance genes in the samples,” Noyes commented.

Although there were millions of resistant genes throughout the samples, many of the DNA sequences were the same. Ninety-five percent of the resistance applied to only two drug types.

“We only identified 319 actual resistance genes,” she explained.

As a side note, she added that no bacteria with resistance genes were found in samples from the slaughter or fabrication process.

After analyzing and graphing the data, Noyes noted, “We are seeing that cattle arrive in the feedyard with a different resistance composition than when they leave the feedyard.”

Also, there appear to be more strains of resistant bacteria when the cattle arrive at the feedlot than there are when they leave.

“This is indicative of selective pressure,” Noyes said. “Only certain bacteria survive and flourish.”

Additional data

These findings are leading to further research as scientists are still unsure why certain bacteria survive and others don’t.

“There are a lot of other things going on during the feeding period. The cattle are being moved, their diet is being shifted, and they are all coming into one area. A lot of things could be affecting this change,” she commented.

In the second study that Noyes discussed, two pens of commercial cattle were studied over an 11-day period at a feedlot. One pen of cattle received the drug Draxxin, and the other did not.

“There was no difference between the treatments,” Noyes stated.

Results from the second study paralleled results from the first study, indicating that cattle arrived at the feedyard with a greater variety of antibiotic resistant bacteria than they had when they left.

“The take-away is that the transition into the feedlot does have a huge impact,” Noyes commented, adding that further research will be needed to learn more about how that information applies to animal and human health.

Further research

“Antimicrobial resistance is really complex,” she remarked. “There are a lot of places where antibiotics are used, and there are a lot of places where people can pick up resistant genes.”

Noyes is hopeful that the new technology will help scientists get a better idea of how bacteria interact and react to their surrounding environments.

“We are looking at these resistant genes as if they are all the same but different genes carry different risks to human health. We need to start coming up with a way to know, when we see these changes in a feedlot, if they are more or less risky. We don’t know yet,” she said.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

According to Wyoming State Veterinary Lab pathologist Donal O’Toole, dysautonomia – a fatal disease found in young ranch dogs – is under-diagnosed by Wyoming vets.

“Once a vet has seen it, and it’s been confirmed, they’ll recognize it again, because the clinical signs are so distinctive,” states O’Toole.

Laurie Rowe, who lives west of Casper, recently saw the disease in one of her stock dogs.

“We took her to the vet, who thought she had a bowel obstruction, so we gave her an enema and IV, but she kept getting sicker and sicker,” says Rowe. “At that point we put her in the car and took to her Colorado State University.”

Rowe says that soon after their arrival the vets at CSU had diagnosed her dog with dysautonomia.

O’Toole says he typically sees dysautonomia in single cases, but that he occasionally sees small episodes.

“The most we’ve seen are three cases on one property, and a vet in Cheyenne recently saw two on one property,” he says. “Generally, the cases look clustered when they’re on a map, but that’s really because those vets who’ve seen it before keep seeing it.”

“It’s not a common disease, but it’s not rare,” says O’Toole. “In those states where people are educated and word has gotten out, we might see 15 or 20 cases per year.”

O’Toole describes dysautonomia as a very interesting disease, for which nobody has identified a cause.

“The first thing to do is to figure out what’s causing it, and several people have taken a pretty hard run at this,” says O’Toole. “There was a clinical neurologist in a vet school in Missouri who published a paper in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, but he did not nail down the cause.”

O’Toole says the research did identify that the disease tends to occur in young, rural dogs, and one suspicion is that is has to do with exposure to some type of agricultural chemicals.

He adds that there is some limited evidence that a similar disease in horses known as grass sickness, which is common in parts of Europe, England and Ireland, may be related. He says there’s also some evidence that dysautonomia may in some way be related to botulism, similar to what occurs in horses, but that hasn’t been proven.

“When the dogs have full-blown clinical signs, there are some medications that can be taken to help the dogs urinate, and there are several compounds that can be used to help ameliorate the signs,” notes O’Toole.

The disease’s clinical signs include difficulty swallowing, dry eye, flaccid anus and difficulty urinating.

“What it does is knock out the automatic, non-thinking part of the nervous system,” explains O’Toole.

“I wonder if it could be infectious,” says O’Toole. “Everyone’s hung up on the notion that it’s got to be a chemical, but we tried isolating the virus from the affected tissue and we never got a virus out. What the disease really needs is a graduate student to take this on as a research project – someone who has the time and patience to tackle this as a disease.”

Until the disease’s cause is known for sure, O’Toole suggests keeping ag chemicals on shelves – sealed and away from animals – as well as protecting yourself and your dog while you’re spraying, whether you’re using herbicides or insecticides.

No matter the cause, O’Toole says the disease kills nerve cells in the tissues affected, and that once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.

“That’s why, if a dog has severe clinical signs, the prognosis has to be pretty guarded,” notes O’Toole.

“I wouldn’t use the word ‘common,’ but this disease does occur sporadically, and it is a devastating disease if your dog gets it, because you will lose your dog, and it will be a young dog,” says O’Toole.

“I just want people to be aware of this disease, because it was such a tragic loss to us with that little dog, and I hope that other people won’t have the tragedy that we did,” says Rowe of her personal experience with the disease.

Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Patrick Burns began researching cattle pregnancy loss in graduate school at Clemson University and his post-doctorate program at the University of Kentucky. Since the late 90s, Burns’ research has explored factors in pregnancy loss, and his current project looks at maintaining pregnancy in cattle. 

Research effort

“The goal of this project is to manipulate a hormone called prostaglandin F2alpha,” Burns, who is now an associate professor at the University of Northern Colorado, explains. “The hormone normally regulates heat cycles. We are trying to regulate the hormone in pregnant animals as a way to reduce embryo loss.”

Burns, along with graduate students Peter Graham and Michele Plewes, is pursuing a project to attempt to reduce early pregnancy loss by blocking the release of prostaglandin F2alpha.

Prostaglandin F2alpha is normally released in the non-pregnant cow late in the heat cycle. The hormone stimulates the death of the corpus luteum, which is the ovarian structure that supports pregnancy.

“My current research focuses on prostaglandin metabolism in reproductive tissues of mammals,” Burns comments. “Specifically, I am investigating the use of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids as a way to reduce prostaglandin secretion in uterine and luteal tissues and improve reproductive efficiency.”

Pregnancy loss

“Early pregnancy losses cost the U.S. dairy and beef industries millions of dollars annually in lost meat and milk production,” Burns comments. “It has been estimated that 20 to 30 percent of all pregnancies are terminated within the first 30 to 60 days, and there are a number of factors that can lead to early pregnancy loss.”

He cites failure in fertilization, chromosomal abnormalities and failure in maternal recognition of pregnancy as top causes in pregnancy loss. 

“Maternal recognition of pregnancy is the period of time where the embryo must signal the cow to let her know she is pregnant,” he explains. “This signal occurs between days 13 and 21 after mating.”

Burns notes that during that time, the embryo blocks the release of prostaglandin F2alpha, which prevents the loss of the corpus luteum so the pregnancy can be established. 

“In these early pregnancy losses, a viable pregnancy or a viable embryo may have a weak signal or a signal that is a little late, so prostaglandin is released, and it regresses the corpus luteum,” Burns says. “The pregnancy is lost.”

Burns’ research with fish oils aims to alter prostaglandin release in early pregnant cow to improve pregnancy loss. 

“Omega-3 fatty acids may regulate prostaglandin F2alpha during early pregnancy and assist the embryo with maternal recognition of pregnancy,” he adds. “What we are trying to do is manipulate prostaglandins.”

Research progress

Phase one of Burns’ research invested the use of omega-3  fatty acids to regulate lipid microdomain distribution and prostaglandin F2alpha receptor movement in the plasma membrane of luteal cells and was recently completed.  He notes that they have purchased cattle for phase two of the project. 

“Phase one was all lab work,” he says. “In phase two, we are going to give low doses of a commercial prostaglandin – Lutalyse®, to regulate corpus luteum function.”

Burns cites work by Milo Wilkbank at the University of Wisconsin who demonstrated that four low doses of prostaglandin resulted in death of the corpus luteum, and only two doses of prostaglandin, alternating with saline, resulted in loss of about half of the corpora lutea. 

Phase two

“We hope we can use omega-3 fatty acids to decrease the percentage of corpora lutea that regress with low doses of prostaglandin F2alpha,” he adds. 

As part of phase two, Burns also noted that they will biopsy the corpus luteum and look at changes in the genes that regulate the corpus luteum.

“This project runs until 2017, but we are hoping to wrap up the studies in the next year,” Burns said. 

“Ultimately, we want to start taking some of the information we have learned to the field, and I’m hoping to be able to do some breeding projects in the next year or two,” he added. 

Applicable use

Burns hypothesizes that supplementing cattle diets with fishmeal or fish oils, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, could allow producers to regulate prostaglandin F2alpha secretion in breeding cows. 

“We believe that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce prostaglandin F2alpha or lead to production of prostaglandins with less potency in reproductive tissues,” he says. “This, in turn, may help embryos that have difficulty in regulating prostaglandin F2alpha and prevent loss of pregnancies.”

Burns notes that it may be possible to deliver fishmeal in a protein supplement or fish oil in a lick tub to range cows, and he further adds that Dan Rule of the University of Wyoming has also looked at use of omega-3 fatty acids in cattle diets, as well. 

Retention of pregnancy, especially at this point in the cattle market, is very important, Burns notes, adding that even one more pregnancy means a significant amount of money.

“We’ve done some preliminary studies, and right now, we generally have about 10 to 15 percent improvement of pregnancies,” he says. “That means a lot right now.”

Microdomains

University of Northern Colorado Associate Professor and researcher Patrick Burns notes that some researchers have hypothesized that microdomains, or regions within the plasma membrane of cells, may play a role in cell signaling. 

“These microdomains may act as platform for the on-off switches during cell signaling,” he says. “They probably bring a hormone receptor in contact with its downstream signaling molecules.”

“We think we may be disrupting those domains with fish oil to decrease the signals,” Burns says. “Recent studies conducted in our laboratory show that omega-3 fatty acids in fish meal became incorporated into cellular membranes within the corpus luteum and reduced prostaglandin F2alpha signaling and expression of genes that regulate the lifespan of the corpus luteum and progesterone synthesis.”

Burns notes that their laboratory is utilizing a technique called single particle tracking to measure the movement of individual receptors on the plasma membrane. 

“We suspect that omega-3 fatty acids will disrupt microdomains and prevents the receptor from interacting with protein on switches, leading to reduced prostaglandin F2alpha signaling,” he said.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“It is critical to concentrate on traits that are economically relevant to our breeding objective,” notes Matt Spangler, Extension beef genetic specialist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

When managing expected progeny differences (EPDs) in cattle, producers should consider how various traits relate to one another.

Desired traits

“More isn’t necessarily better,” Spangler explains, using milk production as an example.

In a study from the early 1990s, researchers looked at how milk production correlated to the economic efficiency of calves marketed at weaning and harvest.

“Milk production, especially in environments where feed availability is limited, can be a detriment,” he says.

Lactation potential correlates with increased costs for nutritional requirements, Spangler adds, noting that to achieve high milk production, cows require more feed.

“Even when cows are dry, they require more nutrients due to lactation potential because their visceral organ size is larger,” he explains.

Cows that utilize resources for heavy milk production may not do as well maintaining body condition or fertility.

Maternal traits

When considering EPD scores, Spangler notes, “Important maternal traits include female fertility, maternal calving ease, maintenance requirements, longevity, maternal weaning weight, disease susceptibility, regional adaptability and temperament.”

Most breed associations maintain scores for all of these traits, except for disease susceptibility and regional adaptation.

“In terminal sire selection, I consider important traits to be calf survival, male fertility, disease susceptibility, calving ease direct, growth rate, feed efficiency, carcass quality and composition,” he adds.

Although EPD scores are generally not yet available for calf survival and disease susceptibility, they are significantly impacted by crossbreeding.

Environment

Spangler explains that producers should also consider environmental factors when selecting animals for breeding.

“Phenotype, or the outward appearance of an animal, is really the sum of genetic effects plus environmental factors,” he says.

This means that two animals can reach the same statistics, but in different ways. For example, two calves can reach the same weight at weaning, but not be identical.

“One calf may get there through superior genetics, while the other may get there through an advantage in the environment,” he explains.

Genetic impact

This is important to remember when selecting sires, because the visible, physical traits of a bull may not tell the whole story.

“As we choose sires, we have to realize the only advantage the sire passes on to the next generation is through his genetics, not through the environmental benefits he may have been afforded,” he comments.

To learn about which traits are genetic, researchers and producers analyze an animal’s progeny.

“We get an average for a sire’s calves, compared to their contemporaries,” Spangler states.

Attributes

These data points become the foundation for EPDs, which are then valued by their expected accuracy.

“We shrink EPDs according to our belief in them,” Spangler says. “In a high accuracy sire, EPDs wouldn’t be shrunk much because we have a very high degree of belief in them. A low accuracy sire, where there is considerable uncertainty, will be shrunk more,” he explains.

From there, producers can use scores to determine values such as input traits for their operation.

Spangler illustrates this, saying, “Angus’ dollar energy value on milk and mature size EPDs give producers a feel for which bulls may sire replacement females that may be lower cost.”

Red Angus’ maintenance energy EPD is another example. It focuses on mature weight that is corrected for body condition score, highlighting the maintenance component of milk production.

“These two tools can be used for producers who really need to get a handle on decreasing input costs in a cowherd,” he states.

Reproductive measures

There are also EPDs that focus on measures of reproduction.

“We know that fertility is at lease twice as economically relevant as either growth or carcass traits,” he comments.

Several breed associations also publish heifer pregnancy and stayability EPDs. Stayability data refers to the reproductive longevity of cows.

Calving ease is also measured.

“There are two types of calving ease – calving ease direct and calving ease maternal,” he continues.

Calving ease direct refers to a sire’s impact on his direct progeny. Calving ease maternal refers to the ease of the calves produced by his daughters.

“It’s important to select for both of those EPDs if producers are retaining replacement heifers,” he adds.

Spangler concludes that selecting for traits should maintain focus on economic relevance to the operation.

“EPDs are seven to nine times more effective for creating change than selecting on actual measurements alone,” he says.

Across-breed

“Unfortunately, EPDs are specific to a breed, and we can not directly compare EPDs of different breeds against each other,” comments University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Specialist Matt Spangler.

To compare across breeds, producers can find across-breed adjustment factors, which are published annually by the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC).

“These can be used to adjust EPDs so we can get a fair comparison across breeds,” he notes.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..