Posted: December 21, 2011

Reunion celebrates Department's legacy of dairy breeding research

DBRC/Almquist Center Reunion

Penn State Dairy Breeding Research CenterWhen Dr. John O. Almquist presided over the Dairy Breeding Research Center (DBRC) in the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University, his research in the physiology of reproduction focusing on the biology of sperm revolutionized the dairy industry. Subsequently, the DBRC was named the Almquist Dairy Breeding Research Center to honor Dr. Almquist’s contributions to reproductive biology.

"We’re continuing the basic research, but in a different dimension." - Dr. Joy Pate

Currently, the Center for Reproductive Biology and Health (CRBH) is a dynamic and visible Center that continues to build on the firm foundation begun when the DBRC was established in 1949. The CRBH has expanded its reach, conducting cutting-edge research in many areas of reproductive physiology, and leading the way in expanding a host of collaborative efforts with other Departments and Colleges within Penn State and with other research facilities.

To celebrate the legacy of DBRC and the continuing research of CRBH, a reunion of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students and others interested in the work of the Center was held Nov. 3 and 4 at Penn State. A tour of the research labs with presentations by graduate and postdoctoral students was part of the recognition and provided insight into the diversity of research currently being conducted by faculty and students in the CRBH.

Coinciding with the recognition of Clif Marshall, Vice President of Production for Select Sires, as DAS Distinguished Dairy Alumnus, nearly 50 friends and colleagues participated over the two days of recognition.

Dr. Joy Pate, who has served as director of CRBH since its inception, called the get-together a chance for those who had been a part of the strong tradition to interact with present faculty and students, and offer insight into charting the future.  Pate explained how today’s research has transitioned from Dr. Almquist’s pioneering work. Pate said, “We’re continuing the basic research, but in a different dimension. Reproductive efficiency in dairy cows has significantly declined in the last half-century, so research with the goal of increasing fertility has become extremely important. Current research within the CRBH is more focused on cellular and molecular mechanisms of reproductive tissues, which will increase our understanding of those processes that may be regulated to enhance fertility.”

Phil Senger, President, Current Conceptions, Inc., who had served on the faculty of DBRC from 1980 to1983, said the leadership of Dr. Etherton in doing a “cluster hire” of six new faculty several years ago to revitalize the program was extremely important in laying the groundwork for the excellent work now being done.  He encouraged the faculty and students to become better communicators and learn to tell their story beyond their labs to help increase the understanding of their research and to expand the influence of reproductive science.

Sandi Staros, Vice President, Creative and Content, Synergy Medical Education, strongly concurred with the need to communicate more effectively and recommended that the Center reach out to cancer societies as potential sources of funding, since some of the research projects touch on cancer.

Sharon H. Anderson, Scientific and Laboratory Director, Main Line Fertility Center, was very impressed with all of the research generated by CRBH.

Marshall, DAS Distinguished Alumnus, urged the Center to continue to include industry in its efforts, since the AI industry and others are providing educational services that cooperative extension can no longer provide. He noted that other reproductive industries can also benefit from the CRBH research.

Roy Hammerstedt, President, APD Life Sciences, Inc., who was a professor in biochemistry at Penn State from 1969 to 1999, said he was pleased to be part of the reunion, and praised the creativity of the faculty for blending past and present.

Rupert Amann, who took over leadership of the Center from Almquist, stressed the importance of thinking in terms of their audience and to continually reflect on what it means to producers, whose primary goal is to get more animals pregnant.

Glen Gilbert, Vice President for Production, Genex Cooperative, was especially glad to see the practical applications for the research that is being done.

Pate described, to the attendees, the strong collaboration the Center enjoys with others, including enhanced interactions with the Hershey Medical Center and members in three different Colleges within the University.

She mentioned the challenges facing the Center including the continuing and expanding need to acquire competitive grants in an atmosphere of low funding, attracting and keeping the brightest scientists, maintaining a strong graduate and postgraduate program and attracting domestic students. She noted that every member of CRBH currently has federal grant dollars.

She noted that many of her students come with no background in agriculture, but have an interest in the cellular/molecular work being done in the labs. Because of the diverse areas of reproductive biology at CRBH, she said it is fertile ground for new ideas and interdisciplinary research. To encourage interaction, her staff and students meet weekly to learn about one another’s research areas, assist each other in the preparation of grant proposals and brainstorm new approaches. She said this collaboration has been extremely valuable in strengthening their proposals and their work.